8 Essential Tips for Business E-mail Etiquette

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When you were in school, you probably learnt how to set out a letter properly, where to position the address of the addressee, to end with ‘yours faithfully’ if you didn’t know the name of the recipient and many other rules to insure your letter gave the best impression possible.

But what about email etiquette?  Businesses and individuals can send numerous emails in a single day – to other businesses, to friends, to clients.  Do we give enough care and attention to how we greet the recipients of our emails as well as considering other mistakes we may make with email etiquette.

Let me share an example of poor email etiquette with you and how it made me feel as a client.

I recently received some emails during an email correspondence with my bank with started with ‘Lorna’, there was no salutation, no ‘Hello’, no friendly ‘Hi’ and neither was there the more formal ‘Dear’ that many people feel is too formal and awkward within an email communication.

The content of these emails related to a complaint I had made and I was getting the impression that the bank employee was becoming rather irritated with me and the lack of the salutation seemed to emphasise this.  I actually felt as though they were trying to put me in my place, that they were being dismissive and abrupt.  Initially I felt angry and aggressive, which is not necessarily the best response that you want to gain from a client and then I was annoyed. When it happened again 2 months later, this time it was the bank manager who sent me a quick email reply to a query with a promise that he would look into the matter. Now, while I appreciated that the email may have been sent in a hurry, once again, I felt as though I had been belittled, was a nuisance, had been dismissed. (I did bring it to his attention later in the day).

I do believe that all businesses should apply a particular standard to all their email correspondence and here’s some suggestions:

  1. Use a salutation. If it is your first email to the person, use ‘Dear  name‘. Once you know them, it is fine to use ’Hi name’.
  2. End your emails with a greeting too , it doesn‘t have to be as formal as ‘yours sincerely‘ or ‘yours faithfully‘ if you know the person‘s name. ‘Kind regards’ is friendly and perfectly acceptable.
  3. Include a signature with your contact details – this is needed if the person needs to phone you or if they need to look at your website.  Your signature will also serve to show your presence on various social networks too such as your blog, face book, linked in and twitter.
  4. Take the same care with spelling, grammar and punctuation as you would in a letter. If unsure, do use a spell check.  Do not use abbreviations within an email.
  5. Don’t use all upper case or lower case letters. All upper case will look as if you are shouting, all lower case looks juvenile and childish.
  6. Remember that your tone cannot necessarily be deciphered in an email so ensure that you check the content of the email to ensure that offence or confusion is prevented.
  7. If you are sending the email to multiple email addresses, use blind carbon copy so that the recipients cannot see the other email addresses. However, do use carbon copy if you are sending the email to another person if they need to be aware of the content of the email so that everyone is aware of same
  8. Use the subject field to show the content and purpose of the email.

Do you have any other suggestions for proper email etiquette? Have you ever experienced poor email etiquette from a business? Or do you have a different opinion as to what email etiquette should entail?


Marie Ennis-O’Connor BA, MIAPR, holds an Honours degree in History from University College Dublin. She is a graduate of the Irish Academy of Public Relations and has worked in a variety of PR roles over the past 12 years. Marie is editor of several award-winning blogs ranging from life sciences to health to business. She is a panel member of the newly established Bloggers International and is a regular contributor to Health Works Collective, an online community for thought leaders in international healthcare. She is a featured blogger on Webicina, an online service that provides curated medical social media resources in over 80 medical topics and over 17 languages, and has been awarded a top blogger accolade by Empowered Doctor.com and most inspiring writer by WegoHealth. Marie is also in demand as a trainer in social media marketing and travels the country teaching small business owners how to get online and maximise their online presence.

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  • http://monawise.wordpress.com WiseMona

    I am guilty of not even using a salutation Lorna. I think you make a lot of great points and feel that business these days are very lax in their email etiquette and communication skills overall.
    I am all for using free forms of communicating, but there are times when I think that a good old fashioned phone call is necessary. The tone used in electronic mail can be mis-interpreted so easily.

    Great piece. I love this blog. Now, off to mind my p’s and q’s!

  • http://www.greensideup.ie Dee Sewell

    Great points and can’t think of anymore! Agree with you that just a name can seem rude. I usually start with a Hi (name) and finish with best regards and suspect that it’s lack of education rather than meaning to be rude that encourages overfamiliarity. Will share this :)

  • http://twitter.com/JBBC Marie Ennis-O’Connor (@JBBC)

    Great post Lorna – I’d like to add one more word of caution – don’t = overuse the high priority option. Even if a mail has high priority for you, it may not for the recipient and your message risks coming across as slightly aggressive and arrogant if you flag it as ‘high priority’. If it really is high priority, then pick up the phone and make a call to explain why.

  • http://www.garrendennylane.ie/blog Lorna – Garrendenny Lane

    Lots of great additions here – yes, totally agree with not using those abbreviations in business emails. Agree with John and Marie too – don’t pretend an email is really important if it isn’t.
    Mona, a friend of mine says that she sometimes doesn’t use a salutation either and had never thought of it coming across as rude. I’m not saying it always does but it does depend on the tone of the overall email and in my experience above, it really had a negative effect on my mood and opinion of the sender too.
    Many thanks for all the comments, Lorna

  • http://gravatar.com/maireadkelly Mairéad Kelly

    I think it is important to request a delivery or read report with some institutions, but not with all of them. I have found that my emails can get “lost” in the system especially government agencies or banking institutions if I don’t request the delivery report. Then I might as well not have bothered in the first place, with them being accountable with a report this rarely happens.

    When sending out mass emails have a mail merge sorted. I think it is really rude to just get a blanket “Hi” instead of my name included

  • http://www.spiderworking.com Amanda Webb

    I guess the biggie for me is make sure the person you send the email to wants it. I’ve lost count of the number of email lists I seem to have been added to that have no interest for me. Getting an email about your product or service when you have no use for it and didn’t ask for it just makes you annoyed with the sender. Recently I received one of these from someone I had given a quote to. Not only was I not interested in what they were selling but it was also sent so that it was cc’d (carbon copied) to her whole list.

    I love the way Damien Mulley out’s all the email spammers on his Twitter account.

    Someone above mentioned smilies. I think they are acceptable if you know the person you are emailing and of course dependant on your relationship with them. I find I am a bit of a smilie addict and the :-) is becoming the new exclamation mark.

    • http://www.garrendennylane.ie/blog Lorna – Garrendenny Lane

      I’ve seen Damien doing that too!.

      totally agree – a lot depends on your relationship with the person

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