10 Essentials of Email Etiquette


As a kid, I was introduced to the world of proper written etiquette by the Beatles.

The song was “Paperback Writer” and its opening line remains: “Dear Sir or Madam, would you read my book?”

Of course, the armed battalion of educators that eventually helped me make sense of the written word would certainly have urged the Fab Four to insert a “please” into that opener, cadence be damned.

But the lesson that stuck with me was that the considerate writer should always take pains to address both genders in a blind letter salutation.

We face a similar global awakening today when it comes to business and personal email etiquette. And yes, as a veteran journalist, more than a few of these offenses get up my nose on a daily basis.

Dear Sirs and Madams, here are my top 10 suggestions for considerate email behavior:

1.  Acknowledge receipt of emails: How else are we to know you received it? Send another? A simple “Got it” or “Thanks” is all it takes to reassure the sender that their email didn’t get waylaid in a spam filter or deleted by accident.

2.  Flag attachments: Use those red urgent/high importance flags when sending documents, jpegs, spreadsheets, bills and the like, then note “see attachments” at the appropriate point in the body of the message. It shows you respect the recipient’s time.

3.  Acknowledge receipt of attachments: Again, care enough to put the sender’s mind at ease. Bonus points if you can let them know when you’ll get to said attachments.

4.  Auto-reply saves everyone time: Headed to Kauai for two weeks? Set up an auto-reply that tells senders when you left, when you’ll return, and when and how often you’ll be checking messages. It buys you time to reply if the surf is up.

5.  Include your contact information: There are occasions (such as Kauai) where the recipient may find it quicker and more convenient to call or text rather than reply by email. Without that information, they may be forced to dry off first.

6.  Grammar still matters: You are implicitly judged, as a person and a professional, by your use or misuse of the language. Re-read your message – and if necessary, spell check it – before you hit send. Your stock will rise faster, guaranteed.

7.  Use spaces, not indents, to separate paragraphs: It’s much easier on the eyes, scans better and graphically separates your thoughts.

8.  Avoid abbreviation: Yes, the Internet is filled with all manner of timesaving abbreviations (obvs, ridic), acronyms (IMHO, TTYL), emoji ( 😉 ) and mongrels (L8TR, G2G). Avoid them in a professional setting however; some find them amateurish and even offensive.

9.  Keep your font simple: There’s a good reason why many print and online publications favor Times New Roman as their body type: it’s easy on the eyes. For a professional look, choose a similarly stylish, universal serif font like Times or Garamond rather than the harder-to-read sans serifs such as Arial or Calibri.

10.  Keep it short: Think of an email as an elevator pitch; short and to the point. Anything you want to share at length belongs in an attachment—or a meeting.

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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