Skip to main content

Basic business email etiquette rules


The following article is aiming to provide tips and advices on a daily procedure of all professionals. The electronic communication has become the most common approach when it comes to offices, buildings and in-company environment. The electronic mail (email) is found on the top of the mentioned list.

On average, each employee spends a quarter of workweek by writing hundreds of emails. Even though we are fastened to the reply button, we might find some helpful advices for a more appropriate approach to the fully professional email composition.

Due to the high volume of emails we receive and send, we may make embarrassing errors, and those mistakes might sometimes come with serious consequences. The most essential email etiquette rules are described below.

1. Keep your subject clear and direct
Some examples for a clear and direct subject lines are “Daily Technical Report”, “Meeting time changed”, “Communication issues on Vessel LAN System”. Recipients frequently decide when to open the email according to the provided subject line. Pick the one that goes straight to the point of the message.

2. Think twice before you click ‘reply all’
No one likes to get emails from 15 people that have nothing to do with them. Skipping thee mails cannot be easy, with several people getting notification on their mobile devices or ignoring notifications on their computer screens while working. Avoid using this email feature, unless you really believe that all recipients need to get the email.

3. Include your electronic signature
Provide the recipient some information about you, by stating details like your full name, your position, phone number, extension and address. Be careful though not to go overboard with different fonts, sizes, colours and ‘artwork’.

4. Make use of professional salutation
Avoid using laid-back, casual expressions like, “Hey folks”, “Yo” or “Hi guys”. The relaxed way of your writings should not be confused with your email salutation especially in the workplace. Yo is not ok either, use the Dear Sir, Dear Mark instead. In addition, avoid using shortening names like Mike instead of Michael unless you are sure he preferred to be called like that.

5. Make use of the exclamation points sparingly
In case you want to convey excitement, use only one exclamation point. We sometimes sentimentalized and put a number of exclamation points at the end of a sentence, resulting with an over-emotional or immature email. Exclamation marks should be barely used.

6. Be cautious with humour
Written humour can easily get lost in translation without the correct facial expressions. Unless you know the recipient well, it is good to avoid using humour during a professional conversation via emails. In addition, keep in mind that a funny point to you might not be funny to others.

7. Remember that people from different cultures speak and write differently
Miscommunication might easily arise because of cultural differences, especially during writing when we cannot convey each other’s body language. Compose your message based on the recipient’s cultural background or how well you know each other. A good point to remember is that low-context cultures (German, American or Scandinavian) prefer to get straight to the point very quickly. On the other hand, high-context cultures (Japanese, Arab or Chinese) want to get familiarized with you before proceeding onto business.


8. Reply to your emails –even if the message was not intended for you
It is not easy to reply to all the email you receive in your inbox, but it is worth to try. Even if an email was accidentally sent to you and especially when the sender waits for a reply. The reply action is not necessary but it serves as good email etiquette especially when the person works in the same company as you. Here is an example reply for such a case: “I do know that you are busy, but I believe you meant to send this email to someone else. I wanted to let you know so you can send it to the correct person”.

9. Proof read your message before sending it Never rely on spell-check, instead read your email a couple of times, preferably aloud, before sending it off. An example of the unreliable spell check is when a manager wanted to write “My apologies for the inconvenience” but instead he used this feature and send “My apologies for the incontinence”. Your mistakes will not go unnoticed by the email recipients, sometimes depending on the person who reads your email, you might be judged.

10. Add the email address last
You really do not want to accidentally send the email before you are done with composing and proof reading. When replying to an email, it is a good practice to delete the recipient’s email and insert it only when you are completely sure the email is ready to be send.

11. Check again if you have selected the correct recipient
Be careful when typing the recipient’s email address under the To: field as you might select a wrong one from the upcoming suggestions. You do not want to embarrass the person who receives the email just because the wrong name was picked.

12. Keep your font simple and clear
Pink and orange Comic Sans as their time and place (correct?) but businesswise, keep your fonts, colours and sizes simple and clear. A good practice is to make use of the 10 or 12 font size and easy-to-read font type as Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman.

13. Keep tabs on your tone
As humour can be lost in translation, similarly the writing tone is easy to be misconstrued without the context you get from vocal cues and facial expressions. Thus it is easy to come off as more abrupt than you might have intended. You might sometimes mean “straightforward”; where the recipient reads “angry and curt”. To avoid this kind of misunderstanding, read out loud your message before sending it. In case it sounds harsh to you it will probably sounds the same to the reader. Another good practice to avoid this is to keep out of your message negative words like failure, wrong or neglected and do not forget to always say “please” and “thanks”.

14. Write accordingly as nothing is confidential
A good approach is to assume that someone else will read what you write, therefore do not write anything you wouldn’t want everyone to see. As a more liberal approach: Do not write something that could be ruinous to someone else. After all, email is very easy to be distributed across, so it is preferred to be safe than sorry.

Don't have an account yet? Register Now!

Sign in to your account