E-mail etiquette

It is an open secret that we all spend our time typing short informal messages in social networks night and day. More is the pity when you apply for a job, open a mailbox and don't know where to begin, as any business e-mail should be properly composed. In spite of the fact that e-mail as a form of communication is considered to be rather informal (in comparison with snail mail letters), it's in behalf of you to maintain a professional tone and follow the rules of e-mail etiquette. Here are simple steps to arm yourselves and establish dialogue with the concerned party.

Did you know?

The code of e-mail writing practice is called netiquette, which stands for 'net' (read 'Internet') and 'etiquette'? This colloquial portmanteau controls the internal cyberspace conduct and serves as a guide for everyone who'd like to communicate with others and observe a respectful tone via the Internet.

First of all

You should learn how to speak out explicitly before composing a message. It's not so easy to summarize the substance of the matter, but at the same time it's the most important side of any e-mail writing practice. Make sure to avoid informal writing. Bear in mind that your message should be brief enough so that the recipient could forward it to any responsible department. The shorter and more informative your e-mail is the more respect to the recipient's time you show.

How to choose an e-mail address?

The answer is extremely simple and consists of two main rules:

  • pick a neutral e-mail address;
  • use your real name.

The first rule means that it's totally unacceptable to carry on a business correspondence under a little_princess@email.com alias/username. According to the second one, you are strongly recommended not to go far afield and use your real name and surname in some variation.

What about the e-mail size/form?

Turning to the first abstract, it's very important to be restrained and not to expatiate, as your recipient might not have enough time to delve deep into your thoughts. Try to walk the 5/5 line which means there should be no more than 5 logical sentences in no more than 5 well-structured abstracts per e-mail. Don't forget about line breaks among all the paragraphs.

How to begin?

Your future correspondence mood depends partly on how you start your first e-mail. Choose a suitable salutation and address the recipient by name. Otherwise, you can use the person's last name (which is more formal).

Well, put Dear (optional) + Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr + a last name + comma:

Dear Mr. Donald,
...

If the name/surname is unknown, replace it with Dear Sir/Madam or Dear Sir or Madam.

How to format a header?

The subject header should be accurate and brief. It will allow the recipient to get the sense of the e-mails and respond to them faster. If you'd like to emphasize a company name/the project name, it's better to put it into square brackets. Use keywords (date, place, event) to attract more attention to your e-mail. Avoid writing IN ALL CAPITALS (it applies to the e-mail body as well), since those uppercase letters give an additional connotation and emotions to your expressions (e.g. anger or joy).

Should I introduce myself?

Of course you should! Furthermore, you should do it right in the first paragraph (in case you initiate correspondence, of course). It's also correct to explain why you are reaching this or that person, where you've found his/her e-mail address and what company you are writing on behalf of.

About attachments

Don't forget to compress the files (e.g. images) you send. Use compression utilities (ZIP archivers) for the operation. It is no less important to make sure that a file is saved in a common format, since a recipient might not have a proper piece of software to open it. If you are going to attach a huge file, you should let a person know beforehand and maybe even inquire about the best time to send it. Also, check twice if you've really attached a file.

Grammar/spelling/content check

Once an e-mail is formally written, it's time to reread it and verify errors, typos, punctuation and so on. If you do not trust yourself, use a spell-checker. Remember that punctuation makes communication easier as it helps in reading sentences faster. Don't defy the rules and try to express the ideas in full sentences. Use a Plain Text mode to avoid fonts/color mix-up.

Expressing emotions by emoticons

Smiley faces are special symbols in messages which reproduce your emotions and mood. You can create them by means of the keyboard punctuation symbols. Those signs are mainly used in informal communication (like forums or social networks).

If there is a deadline

If there is any deadline, mention it as well. If a recipient shouldn't be in a hurry to reply to your message, provide that information too. If he/she doesn't have to reply at all, let him/her know. You can use the FYI (for your information) abbreviation to mail a note.

It's time to say goodbye

But how? It's easy enough, as there are several established norms to end an e-mail. Of course, you should choose the correct form according to your relationship with the recipient. Here are several examples:

  • Best,
  • Best wishes,
  • Respectfully,
  • Regards,
  • Best regards,
  • Yours sincerely,

Remember to leave your full name and the contacts so that a person could get in touch with you. If you have a job title (or a blog link), write it in the line after your name and add a company name or a website in the line after that.

Check the system clock

It might be rather embarrassing in case someone got a message sent from 1989. Please make sure you send an e-mail with the correct date (despite the fact that the mail system might set it up automatically).

Be polite: 5 DOs and DON'Ts

  • If you can't reply at the moment, let a person know that you got the e-mail and will get back to it.
  • If you are afraid to send an e-mail by accident, make a rough copy in a notebook.
  • Don't hesitate to say “thank you”, “appreciate your help”, “looking forward to your reply”, etc.
  • Don't send too many messages to a person and don't bombard him/her with e-mails of the same type (“Did you get my message”? “Did you have a chance to read my e-mail”? “Thank you”. “Me too”).
  • Try to reply faster. The quicker you reply, the shorter your e-mail is allowed to be.

You can also read about Best tools which help you sort out your emails.

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