Email Etiquette: 10 Tips For Digital Correspondence

Lisa Lyons at her computer writing an email with a colleague to illustrate the topic of email etiquette

 

Remember those silly emails from the nineties? Send this to 10 people or something *terrible* will happen! We have certainly come a long way since then. Email has taken on a massive role in our lives, so keeping note of basic email etiquette makes online communication better for us all!

 

1. Write With Care

Good email etiquette starts with the content. Spelling, grammar, and word choice matter. Treat email like a business letter and err on the side of formality. It is preferable to leave emojis and short-hand for more casual and familiar text messages unless you know the recipient well. 

Always, always, always do a proofread on a longer message. Apps such as Grammarly can be very helpful for catching errors. Furthermore, some email providers such as Gmail allow you to opt into a delayed send function which means you can rescind an email within a given time frame (up to 30 seconds). This can be great if you make a mistake, such as realizing you have forgotten an attachment.

 

2. Use The Subject Line 

Succinctly tell the recipient what your email is about. It is polite and much tidier than receiving a “no subject” email which makes it much harder to find and refer back to in the future. If you require an immediate response or the matter is urgent, put this in the subject line.

 

3. Know Your Audience

The more you get to know someone, the more relaxed your correspondence can become. However, at the start of a relationship it is important to write formally. Follow the other person’s lead as the relationship evolves.

 

4. Do Not Use All Caps To Emphasize 

Writing in all capital letters is considered “yelling” in digital speak, therefore avoid it wherever possible. Raising your voice to someone is inelegant in person and the same goes for online communication. If you need to emphasize something, consider italics or underlining. Make sure you are emphasizing carefully so as not to appear condescending.

 

5. If Emotions Run High, Wait to Reply 

We should always aim to respond rather than react. Therefore, if you’re upset or angry it is best to wait before writing or replying. You will be grateful for the “cooling off” period later.

 

6. Format Your Email for Ease of Reading

Good etiquette shows you respect someone else’s time and email etiquette is no different. It is courteous to make your message easier on the reader. If possible, keep your email brief but not abrupt. Stick to one main subject and break up long sentences or paragraphs. Bullet points can also make your message easier to read and understand. 

If the subject is complex or a lengthy discussion is required, it is preferable to schedule a phone call.

 

7. Use Reply All Correctly 

If multiple people need to remain copied in, always be sure to “reply all.” Similarly, do not copy in or keep people in long email threads if they do not need to be. There is no need to unnecessarily fill someone’s inbox.

 

8. Mind Your Response Time 

Despite current conversations around work-life balance, the general rule of thumb is to reply within 24 hours on weekdays. Even if you simply confirm that you have received the message and will reply soon, keeping your recipient in the loop is very polite. If you do not check your email daily, consider creating an automatic response that explains your systems so people are not left in the dark.

Likewise, make sure you use your vacation responder if you are away for multiple days. Include information on who to contact during your absence, should they need to speak to someone.

 

9. Remember, No Email is Private

Any email can be copied or forwarded without your consent. This is true of any written correspondence, take care to write accordingly.

 

10. Do Not Use Email for Difficult Subjects

Remember when Carrie was broken up with on a post-it note? Email falls in that category when it comes to tricky topics. Difficult conversations deserve human interaction. Have them face-to-face whenever possible, even if it must be virtually through Zoom or similar.