7 Email Rules Every Professional Should Know

Email is a tricky and wonderful thing. It’s an easy way to send a quick message to connect with a client and says a lot about you as a professional. Since we all send and receive a sizable number of emails every single day, it can be easy to make an embarrassing mistake or come across in an unintended way. Here’s my tips and thoughts on proper email etiquette every professional should know.

You’re so excited!!!!

I will admit to this being a work in progress for me. Since you can’t hear the tone of voice I wrote my email in, you might misunderstand when I say “I’m right on it” you hear ‘Why are you bothering me? Ughhhh’ when I mean ‘Happy to do that for you.’ One exclamation point at the end of that sentence properly lets you know that my optimistic self has read your message and will complete the work soon. More than one can appear immature or unprofessional.

Make your subject clear

Tell me what the email is about before I open it. I’m likely to wait a bit of time to read the email that just came though that says “(No Subject)” over “Quick Question” or “Meeting Rescheduled.” Reserve using “Urgent” or “Attention” unless you really need an immediate response. If someone uses that often in their subject line, it’s going to naturally become less important over time.

Try to reply to the majority of emails in a timely fashion

(but avoid one liners that don’t advance the conversation such as “Ok” or “Thanks”)

This a hard one, but a simple ‘got it’ goes a long way. Can’t get to the task at hand for a while? Let the sender know. Took care of the task straightaway? Let the sender know. It’s never good for anyone to feel they have been forgotten. It shouldn’t be expected that you respond immediately (unless it’s a true emergency situation), but 24-48 hours is appropriate. Also – did you get an email intended for someone else? Be nice and let the sender know of their mistake. A quick, “I believe you didn’t mean to send this to me” works like a charm.

Rethink the “Reply All”

Does everyone on the email thread really need to be copied on your response? I’ve had days at work where half of the emails that have come into my inbox were because of Reply All Overuse (RAO). I don’t want to have to sort through my inbox and figure out which ones have to do with my responsibilities and which don’t. If it’s something I’ll be looped into eventually (maybe some people feel otherwise, hence RAO), I’m fine with catching up on the past communication at the proper (later) time. If two individuals are back and forth about something – leave others out of it and don’t Reply All. I know “inbox-zero” or “I never delete an email” types of people – ignoring emails can be difficult, so be considerate in your send.

Your email address should sound professional

I fortunately don’t come across this too often since most addresses created/chosen are someone’s work email or a personal account that uses the person’s name in the address. Maybe it was ok for me to have an email address of MandyLovesWine@…. twenty years ago (actually, no it wasn’t) but it’s certainly not doing me any professional favors when I’m telling a client how excited I am to be part of a new project and how dedicated I will be.

Lost in Translation

Humor. Sarcasm. Emoji’s. While all of these things can liven up a boring email, they’re best reserved for occasional use and only when you know the person you’re emailing well. Never met your email recipient face-to-face? Don’t try to be funny.  Something that’s amusing to you may not be funny to someone else and they likely will not get the sarcastic tone you ‘meant.’  Unsure if : ) be should included? Then leave it out.

Re-read the email before you click send

Errors will be made. You will not write a grammatically correct, perfect email every single time but try to sound informed and polite. Use spell check. Check that autocorrect didn’t change a word for you. I admit, whenever I receive an email that has more than two spelling mistakes, they do not go unnoticed.

Other tips –

  • Pick up the phone. If it’s going to take longer to write the email than it would with a quick conversation, if we can clear things up instead of emailing back and forth or it’s a sensitive (or time-sensitive) issue, it’s likely better to call.
  • Match your subject line to your message. Please don’t reply to the last email from your recipient and send an email about something that has nothing to do with the previous one.
  • Briefly introduce yourself. If you aren’t sure if the recipient will recognize your name or email, provide a short and simple introduction.
  • Add the recipient’s email address as the last thing you do or you might send a halfway composed email.
  • Check the recipient’s email address before sending. This helps to avoid sending an email to the wrong person or to the person you were “talking” about (insert palm to forehead) and didn’t mean to include on the email.
  • Avoid abbreviations for real words. TBH IMO, this doesn’t sound professional, but LMK.

Mandy Smith is a Digital Account Manager at Epic Notion. She’s non-committal about an oxford comma and occasionally but unintentionally uses “your” instead of “you’re” when composing emails and marketing content.