The art of the email is lost. We have embraced autocorrection, exclamation marks, emojis and poor writing skills, abandoning our correct spelling and elementary school grammar rules.
While we don’t necessarily need to channel the spirit of William Shakespeare when we’re shooting over an email to our colleagues or managers, it is still important to apply good etiquette in your Gmail or Yahoo! mail messages.
Remember: there’s the lazy email writing and the formal email composition. Which one do you want to utilise when you’re at the office?
Let’s put it this way: if you want to be taken more seriously and considered more professional, then we highly recommend the latter. Let’s put it another way: don’t you get annoyed when Bill from Marketing sends you messages that seem more like spam from the 1990s?
So, what exactly is professional email etiquette in 2018 and beyond?
We have a collection of tips to pen a business email that doesn’t appear a teenager wrote it on Snapchat but rather by a competent adult.
1. Use Professional Language
Sure, in the outside world, you’re abbreviating your words, writing inappropriate language you would never use in the workplace and using the English language with reckless abandon – we don’t care how many times you do it, please stop writing ‘could of’, ‘gr8’ and ‘LOL’ in all your company emails – these are the typical email sins.
Here is how to compose a generic email for a professional setting:
- open your email with a greeting
- get to the meat of your email right away
- part well with a friendly sign-off, like ‘thanks’, ‘sincerely’ or ‘best wishes’.
When you want to add another layer of professionalism, only stick to office-related emails.
2. Communicate the Right Tone
If there’s one thing that’s difficult when sending an email, it’s delivering a tone.
Since the recipient is not physically and verbally communicating with you, it can be difficult for the individual to understand what you’re really saying. From humorous to serious, emails can diminish the tones of all your emails.
How many times has a harmless joke gotten you into trouble?
The main difficulty is overcoming this hurdle and trying to communicate the right tone. There are a handful of recommendations to achieve this:
- stick to personal pronouns when digitally penning an email
- compose your emails in the active voice rather than the passive one
- choose your words carefully – the wrong adjective or noun can cause damage
- know the right greetings and closings, but don’t be too cute.
Often, we read too much into a message in our inbox. Are they uncouth? Was the message sarcastic? Was the sender passive aggressive?
These are reasonable questions that flood our mind upon reading the latest item in our inbox, but it’s time to throw these away and just realise the sender is only sending an email, not a Dear John nor Dear Amy.
3. Format Your Email
Indeed, your email’s format may not seem like such an important thing, but it’s just one added layer in your quest to perfecting your formal communications. When writing an email, you will want to maintain a consistent and professional theme, a template that you will regularly use.
What does the default format look like? It’s generally Times New Roman, size 11 or 12, and one space after each paragraph.
Here’s an example:
Dear Mr Vandelay,
Hope all is well.
I received your message, and I would like to thank you for getting in touch with me. I took your advice, and I inserted two graphics in the report to emphasise our latex products. You can see the images I chose in the attached file.
Let’s hope it will impress our Japanese clients.
[Insert signature here]
A simple format that is not fancy is always better than one that is opulent and over the top. You don’t need pristine computer skills to correctly format an email.
4. Avoid Outrageous Usernames
Whether you’re opening a new email account at the office or you’re using your personal email for work-related purposes, it’s your job to do this one thing: avoid the outrageous username (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). This will send the wrong message to your colleagues, supervisors and boss about your overall demeanour.
Simply put: use email@example.com instead.
5. Proofread Every Message
Look, we are not all infallible, you know? We make mistakes, which is why they put erasers on the back of pencils and the ‘Delete’ button on our keyboards. It happens.
The key is to learn from the errors. If your lifelong objective moving forward is to correct mistakes and learn from them, then you can begin with your emails.
The main goal of yours is to proofread every message you send. It doesn’t matter if the email is two paragraphs or a letter to the top executive in the company. There are two ways to go about this: install a grammar add-on in your browser – the most popular tool is Grammarly – and double-check your email before hitting the ‘Send’ button.
If you were never one for sentence structure or the present tense, then you should certainly consider installing Grammarly. You never know if you’ll learn things you’ve forgotten about or didn’t know. Who knew there was a huge difference between ‘If I was’ compared to ‘If I were’?
6. Use Your Signature Wisely
Your email signature is a great tool at your disposal because it can convey a lot of important information without having it added to the context of your messages. A proper signature can reiterate your name, title, social media information or even some witty phrase that is applicable to your industry. It can make you stand out from the crowd and allow recipients to remember you.
So, just how do you produce a signature that makes you stand out?
- limit your signature to four lines maximum
- add social media icons to bring your signature into the 21st Century
- keep colours simple and consistent; skip pink and default font with black
- insert a call-to-action in the final line (be sure to remember the office party)
- refrain from wasting valuable real estate by putting in your email address
- publish a coloured image of yourself next to your signature
Here’s a sample:
Travelling Salesman, Company ABC [linked to website]
+(44) (0)1632 123456
This is how you maximise the power of an email signature.
7. Understand That Nothing Is Confidential
Here is the truth of using the Internet in 2018: nothing is safe, secure or confidential. From data infiltrations to security breaches to email hacks, it seems like anything and everything you do online is no longer confidential and anonymous. Just ask the executives at Sony. And this is important to remember the next time you send an email that is full of grievances and a bit too personal.
In other words, write an email with the idea that the rest of the office could see it. It’s better to simply stick to your work and the age-old adage of ‘if you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it at all’. Moreover, refrain from providing too much information on sensitive corporate data.
By foregoing these suggestions, you could potentially risk having others read it, too. It’s just your luck that the one time you complained about human resources, the company got hacked!
It’s true that the office environment has become a bit relaxed in recent years. This is potentially because more millennials have entered the workforce, bringing their exuberance and modern ways to the office landscape. But this behaviour should not be integrated into your emails. It should be the opposite: professional, clean and polite – like The Wall Street Journal.
They say that email is dead. So, what’s the point of practising good manners, anyway? Well, considering how the modern-day office space lives and dies by the email, it’s safe to say that they are wrong. Before you hit ‘Send’ on your next email, think about if it meets the etiquette criteria. If not, you’ll need to hit the ‘Backspace’ on your keyboard and start all over again. You dress for success, so why not write for success, too?
Do you write professional emails? Let us know in the comments section!