Basic Email Etiquette

Businesswoman working on laptop and cell phone
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Email is one of the primary ways people send written communication now, and it's not likely that will ever change. It's easy, fast, and doesn't require a stamp.

Gone are the days when you have to wait a week or more for a letter or response in the mail. It's not necessary to make emergency runs to the post office to weigh your envelopes and pick up enough stamps for bills and letters. In fact, many people have never even addressed an envelope or sent a letter through the U.S. Post Office.

Email has become one of the easiest and fastest ways to communicate both personally and in business. This has become such a phenomenon that the ever trusty United States Postal Service is struggling to find ways to stay in business.

There is no surprise then that email etiquette, often referred to as Netiquette, is a hot topic for the current culture. Emails are sent every day by a broad section of the American population. Most businesses use email to communicate with employees throughout the day. Nearly every household has at least one computer with internet access and within those households are moms, dads, children, teens and maybe even grandparents, with all or most of these are receiving and sending emails.

We live in a microwave, internet-driven society, and no one wants to take the time to write a longhand letter, even though it is so much more intimate and personal. Still, there are many circumstances in which the email works better than snail mail. Here are some etiquette dos and don'ts to keep in mind when you are composing email notes.

  1. Prepare. Before you begin typing an email, whether it is an initial note or a response, you should ask yourself what it is that you would like to communicate. In short, what is your purpose for writing? Once you know, you can read over the completed email before sending it out to make sure you have accomplished your goal. If it makes the grade, then send it; if the text is confusing, harsh, or unclear, then perhaps you should begin again.
  2. Communicate. Remember that you are communicating with a real person who will receive this mail. With that in mind, you should address the person by name and be respectful. If this is a response to a received email you should take the time to address any questions or requests early in the note.
  3. Breathe. We have all been guilty at some point or another of losing our composure. If you receive an email that angers or upsets you, do not respond in kind. Take the high road and either respond only to acknowledge receipt or take some time before responding so you can calm down and reply with a well thought out message. You never want to respond to an email (or any other form of communication) in anger. When we are angry we tend to say (or write) things that we either don't mean or don't need to say. Remember that once your email gets sent, it is out there forever.
  4. Be transparent. Your subject line should be a true representation of why you are contacting the recipient. Use phrases that relate to the subject of the mail. This is true whether you are composing a business or personal email. For instance, if you are writing an email to your mom about her visit next week, your subject line should read something like, "Your visit."
  5. Research. If you are sending an email to a business associate, it is appropriate for you to use his or her last name and title. Do the research and address the recipient correctly. The president of the company could either be addressed as Mr. Taylor or President Taylor.
  6. Spellcheck. The use of spell check is important when you are communicating in writing. When you send a note full of errors, it communicates that you are sloppy or that you do not pay attention to detail. Try to always run the spellcheck or use a program that auto-corrects. And then read it again to make sure that the words you wanted to use were not auto-corrected to something different.
  7. Proofread. You should take the extra few seconds or minutes that are necessary in order to do a quick proofread of any email you plan to send. Take this time to edit any awkward sentences or to place any missing punctuation marks.
  8. Watch for tone. Sometimes an email may come off different from how you intended. The tone of your email is very important and is just as important as your message. Because this is written communication, you should make sure that your tone is pleasant and that it is a true representation of what you want to say. Remember that your recipient can't hear the chuckle in your voice or see the smile on your face. Unless you want to preface everything you write, you should avoid any language in the email that may be misconstrued in any way.
  9. Be short and sweet. Try not to write a novel when you email. Most people really do not want to read that much in an email. If the email is necessarily lengthy, try to help the recipient out by highlighting key concepts, using bullet points, or summarizing the subject in the opening paragraph.
  10. Communicate well. You don't want to confuse your reader, so take the time to be clear and concise in your writing. If you are emailing a friend, you can be more casual in your writing style. However, if this is business communication, use proper grammar and avoid using symbols or emojis that make you appear less professional.

Email communication is very popular. Take the time to engage the Golden Rule, and you will go a long way toward being a polished netiquette pro.


Edited by Debby Mayne