In the day of the hard-copy business letter there was an accepted etiquette for form, address and language. We have unfortunately become more lax when it comes to today’s written communication: the business email.  Below are some tips to avoid common mistakes.

10 Business Email Etiquette Tips

#1. Act responsibly and professionally

The very first thing you need to know when it comes to business email etiquette is that you must always act responsibly and professionally. Never use your company email address to send jokes and gossip to your friends or to register onto websites of personal interest. Your personal privacy ends at the office door.

#2. The subject field

Don’t send emails without a subject line. When  you are initiating communication with another individual or company we suggest the following:

  • Don’t write a very long subject.  Remember they can only see as much of that subject line as their monitor permits and may decide it’s spam.
  • Don’t use all caps.
  • Don’t use all small case. Both of these last two faux pas suggest that you are, at best,  unprofessional and, at worst, possibly a spammer.

#3. This is not the place for informality.

Never assume you can be informal because email is informal by default. It’s not. It is a business communication.  A very informal email may offend the receiver. You need to build a relationship with someone before you can be informal with them.

#4. Don’t play around with fonts and other features.

Use standard formatting. Don’t try to be more fun or appealing by changing the cases or fonts. Use standard black.  Avoid excessive punctuation, especially the use of exclamation points. If you are unclear on the use of commas, semicolons and colons, look it up. This is no different from writing a letter.

Let me give you an example which has been on the web for years.  Someone printed out a piece of paper and hung it in his company’s common room. It read “Please stop using Comic Sans. This is a business, not a lemonade stand.” Exactly.

#5. Don’t use cute abbreviations.

Abbreviations are too informal for a standard business email. Never use words like ‘u’ instead of ‘you’  or ‘thru’ for through. Spell it correctly.

Avoid asking useless questions such as “Do you understand?”. Rather, suggest they contact you if the email is not clear.

#6. Use proper forms of address.

If you are initiating the communication, use standard polite forms of address: Mr., Ms., or Dr.  – whatever suits the individual.  Afterward, when you have established a relationship with them, you may call them by their given names if invited to do so. Never assume.

#7. The “Bcc” and “Cc” fields.

Use the Bcc field if the persons you are sending the email to don’t know each other. If you put them all in the ‘to’ field,  you are divulging their email address. They may not appreciate that.

The Cc field is for people who know each other or have communicated before and may be assumed to have no problem with exposing their address to the others.

#8. The “Reply to All” button.

Double check before hitting this button. There have been countless occasions when people did it and immediately regretted it. There are two reasons for that. First of all, you might be disclosing information you shouldn’t. Second of all, you will be filling up everyone’s email box unnecessarily.

#9. Attachments.

Here’s another delicate subject in the matter of business email etiquette. Ordinarily, with just a few exceptions, you should only send attachments in the form of files or pictures if the person in question requested them, directly or indirectly.

While we’re on the subject, whenever you send an attachment, don’t use novelty software to create that file. If they have to request the file in another format or download a copy of the unusual software they will not thank you for it, particularly if they have been waiting for that attachment.

#10. New topic, new email.

If you have something new to talk about with someone, always create a new email or start a new email chain.  Continuing a previous conversation looks lazy.

Here’s one last tip as far as business email etiquette goes: Always reply as promptly as possible. Don’t leave people waiting. In the end, you may damage the relationship you are working to create.

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