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Email Etiquette: Tips For Optimizing Inbox Interactions

Email. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. When used properly, email makes it quick and easy to dash off a note to a colleague, but it can also be a huge drain on time and resources if you’re not careful. The volume of emails we receive daily makes it essential to carefully consider what you’re emailing, how you’re doing it, and how you’ll be perceived. Here are some email etiquette tips to ensure you’re getting the most out of the communication tool with which so many of us have a love/hate relationship.

Respect the Time of Your Recipients

There are an estimated 4 billion email users in the world. They send 306 billion emails every day, and sometimes, it feels like they’re all landing in my inbox. We’re all busy, our attention spans are short, and our to-do lists are long.

Your colleagues and clients will thank you for being respectful of their time and following these email best practices:

Use informative subject lines

Subject lines should be brief but informative so that the recipient has all the necessary context at a glance before they even open the email. For example, “Candidate Name | Job | Hiring Stage” is a much better subject than “John Smith.” What about John Smith? Why should I open this message? What information am I going to find inside? A good subject line is your chance to catch the reader’s attention and save them time.


Use pleasantries, but sparingly

Something simple like “Hope you are well” or “Hope you had a great weekend” is a great way to start an email, but you’ll want to quickly move on from the small talk to respect the recipient’s time. Be welcoming and friendly, and then get to the point.

Respond when you need to (and don’t when you don’t)

An email thread should only continue as long as it’s adding value to both parties. If there’s a call to action or you need to confirm something, of course, you’ll want to respond. If your email says something polite but useless like “you’re welcome” or “no problem,” just skip it.

(Almost) Never Reply All

When should you Reply All? Almost never. Seriously. Appropriate circumstances might be when it’s a small group in which everyone needs to see your response or if you have something essential to add to the content of the original email. If the sender is asking the group a question, reply only to the sender.

Pro Tip: Set up Delayed Send on your email in your settings so that you can “undo” a send after the fact to save yourself from an accidental Reply All.

Embrace the short and sweet

Write emails that are as long as necessary and no longer. A general rule of thumb is that if your topic can’t be covered in a couple of paragraphs, it likely shouldn’t be sent in an email. It shouldn’t take someone longer to read your email than a conversation would – and if it does, pick up the phone and have a conversation instead.

Respect working hours

We all know that life happens, and we’ll occasionally end up working after hours. If that work includes emailing other people, though, you’ll want to communicate that you’re working odd hours and don’t expect prompt responses. Be clear in this expectation so that others don’t feel pressured to work after hours to keep up with you.

Keep it Professional and Polite

While you should treat all written communication as though it could be shared publicly, it’s common to slip into informality and shortcuts that result in awkward situations. Respecting the privacy of your coworkers, promoting transparency, and being inclusive all come into play in email etiquette.


Forward with discretion

It’s common to forward emails to save time or share context, and that’s fine if the email is clearly written and needs to be sent to a team. If the content is something personal or subjective, though, respect the sender’s privacy and don’t forward it; send a separate email with the relevant details instead.

Pro Tip: If you do decide to forward an email, skim the entire thread first in case there is sensitive content further down the communication chain. In that case, a little light editing goes a long way – keep what’s essential and delete what isn’t.


Be transparent when looping in others

BCC is commonly used as a security best practice to hide recipients’ email addresses. It’s also a helpful feature for ensuring no one can accidentally Reply All when you email a large group. If you want someone to be notified about the communication, though, skip the BCC and CC them instead. Whether you’re looping in your boss or a coworker, transparency will always benefit you.


Be selective in your humor

Emails are usually dull, so it’s a surprising delight to get one with a bit of humor and personality. You want to avoid anything that could be considered offensive or misconstrued, though, keeping in mind that anything you write has the potential to be shared outside of your intended audience. Puns are a great way to keep your email light without risking unprofessionalism.

Make a Good Impression

Taking the time to proofread your emails and maintain a professional demeanor is a critical component of good email etiquette. No matter how insightful the content of your email is, people will be hard-pressed to take you seriously when you’re blasting off emails full of errors and emojis. Here are some things to keep an eye on to make a good impression:


Proofread your emails

Just as you wouldn’t submit a final paper without proofreading it, you also shouldn’t email your boss or client without double-checking your spelling and grammar. Pay extra close attention to details like your vs. you’re and their vs. they’re, and always use spellcheck.


Use proper punctuation

Don’t shy away from punctuation to convey tone in your emails – but don’t get carried away, either. Even the most exciting emails are unlikely to warrant more than one or two exclamation points. Overusing this punctuation risks making you appear uncouth, unprofessional, or immature.


Use emojis wisely

The etiquette around the use of emojis depends on who you’re emailing. A well-placed grimace goes a long way in a lighthearted email to a colleague about an overdue assignment, but it likely isn’t appropriate to laugh-cry your boss. As for clients, you’re generally safe following their lead. I wouldn’t drop a peace sign at the end of a client email, but I might include a smiley face if they sent an emoji first.

Lastly, an essential part of good email etiquette is recognizing that some things are better coming in a different form of communication. Remember that email is a tool to do your work, not the only way to work. A chat message or phone call might be better if it’s something brief. If it’s something in-depth, a meeting would be a better fit. Remembering that email is just one tool in your communication toolbox is perhaps the most useful piece of email etiquette advice.


Photo credit: Canva

by Planet Pharma



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