20 Best Practices for Professional Email Etiquette

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 17, 2021

Email is a primary form of written business communication, and understanding email etiquette is essential. In this article, we discuss what email etiquette is, why it matters, and share 20 specific tips to help you master best practices when sending professional emails.

What is email etiquette?

Email etiquette is the code of conduct used for email communication. It is a standard set of principles that govern behaviours and habits when writing or responding to email messages. Email etiquette can be adjusted for a particular audience or purpose, but in all cases is used to demonstrate professionalism and respect during the exchange of email communication.

Why does it matter?

Following proper email etiquette is important because the way you communicate reflects who you are as an employee. It enhances the positive impression you make on colleagues, supervisors and potential contacts, and demonstrates your professionalism and attention to detail. Using email etiquette allows for effective communication that is streamlined, concise and purposeful.

20 Tips for professional email etiquette

Here are 20 tips to ensure you follow proper business email etiquette:

  1. Identify the goal of your email

  2. Consider your audience

  3. Keep it concise

  4. Proofread your email before sending

  5. Remember to follow up

  6. Include a brief, concise subject line

  7. Use a professional and appropriate greeting

  8. Use a brief, concise introduction

  9. Use sentence case in your email

  10. Keep your tone professional

  11. Use positive language

  12. Stay away from emojis

  13. Perfect your email signature

  14. Use standard fonts and formatting

  15. Email from a professional address

  16. Double-check any attachments

  17. Be cautious with "Reply All"

  18. Think before forwarding

  19. Use Bcc appropriately

  20. Start new email threads for new topics

1. Identify the goal of your email

When preparing to send an email, begin by identifying the purpose of your message. Is it to book a meeting or follow up on a previous discussion? Being clear with your intention ensures that the message stays direct and concise.

2. Consider your audience

The tone of your email depends on your audience. Be sure to customize your email to reflect the recipient and consider how they will read it.

3. Keep it concise

A professional or work email is not the place to recount your weekend adventures. Stick to the goal of your email and use direct, positive language.

4. Proofread your email before sending

Proper spelling, punctuation and grammar are essential when sending written correspondence. After you finish writing an email, read it out loud to ensure there are no errors before sending it, as this increases the likelihood of catching any mistakes that your eyes may have skimmed over had you read it silently.

5. Remember to follow up

The expected follow-up time to respond to an email is typically 24 to 48 hours. If you have forgotten to respond, be sure to include a short apology and a brief explanation before continuing with your response.

6. Include a brief, concise subject line

Including a brief and concise subject line will increase the recipient's chance of opening the email and help them prioritize it accordingly. Be sure always to include a subject line. Emails without one will show up in an inbox as "No subject" and might go unread.

Your subject line should directly reflect the goal or intent of the email. For example, i f you apply for a job, you might make the subject line "Job Application for Graphic Design Position." Or, if you are booking a meeting with your team, the subject line, "Team Meeting at 11 a.m.," is appropriate.

7. Use a professional and appropriate greeting

It is considered a professional courtesy to address the email recipient using their title and surname, for example, "Mr. Smith" or "Dr. Jones." If you have a cordial relationship with the receiver, you may address them by their first name.

It is also essential to greet them professionally by using "Dear," "Hello," or "Good morning/afternoon." For example, you can write "Dear Mr. Baker," or "Good day Betty," depending on your relationship.

It is recommended to use the recipient's name exactly as shown in their email signature and stay away from nicknames or shortening. For example, do not assume that Michael goes by Mike or Jennifer goes by Jen unless you know they refer to themselves in that manner.

8. Use a brief, concise introduction

After using a professional and appropriate greeting, it is good practice to include a brief introduction. This gives the reader a general idea of why you are sending the email.

You can choose to include a brief opening sentiment, such as "I hope this finds you well" or "I hope you had a fantastic weekend." This step is optional and depends on your relationship with the recipient. Then provide one or two sentences to give an introduction to the email. For example, if writing about an upcoming presentation, you might write, "I hope this email finds you well. Here is an overview of your responsibilities during the sales presentation next week..."

9. Use sentence case in your email

Be sure to follow professional sentence structure by capitalizing the beginning of each sentence and proper nouns. Avoid using all caps, as this is generally interpreted as yelling within written communication.

10. Keep your tone professional

When communicating through writing, it can be easy to misunderstand emotion and humour. Be sure to keep the tone of your email professional and to the point. Avoid using negativity, sarcasm or adjectives that could be misinterpreted as overly emotional. Similarly, be cautious of using humour that may be misconstrued.

11. Use positive language

Be intentional about maintaining a positive tone throughout your emails. Because written communication doesn't allow for the subtleties of body language and voice inflection, using positive language is the best way to ensure your message reads as friendly and confident. For example, instead of using words such as "problem" or "trouble," consider using words like "opportunity" or "challenge."

12. Stay away from emojis

It is best to refrain from using emojis in your emails. Unless you've had a prior email conversation with your recipient in which they used casual emojis, they can reflect poorly on your professionalism and be misinterpreted in a business environment.

13. Perfect your email signature

Having a clear and well-formatted email signature leaves a lasting impression. Your signature should include your full name, job title, company website, and phone number. A template will usually be provided by your company. Having clear contact information is essential, particularly if you are searching for a job or work for yourself. C heck your email signature on different devices to see how it looks to your recipients and is easy to read.

14. Use standard fonts and formatting

It is tempting to include creative flair when composing an email, but having a font, colour or formatting that is difficult to read can take away from your desired message. Stick with basic fonts, that are black, easy to read and between 10pt and 12pt size. Examples of basic professional fonts include Arial, Cambria, Georgia, and Times New Roman. Use bold, italics and underline formatting sparingly throughout the body of the text, and only to emphasize the most important aspects of your message.

When copying and pasting from another document, be sure to clear formatting when pasting the information into your email body, as it may look different from the rest of the message. To clear formatting, you can use "Command + \" on a Mac or "Ctrl + Shift + N" on a PC.

15. Email from a professional address

Your sending address can impact the deliverability of your emails. When sending professional emails, always use your company email address. If you are self-employed or using your personal account for work-related correspondence, look into purchasing a custom email address that provides a professional email address that is business-appropriate. Many providers offer this for a low monthly fee. A custom email increases the level of trust people have in messages that come from you and enhances your professionalism.

16. Double-check any attachments

Be sure to double-check any attachments you've included with an email. It is a good idea to let the recipient know in the body of your email that you have attached a file. It is courteous to compress or zip the attachment to take up less storage space. And if a document is too large, include a link to a secure cloud storage file where the recipient can access the information.

17. Be cautious with "Reply All"

The benefit of using "Reply All" is that you can respond to everyone at once. However, this can also lead to inundating a list of people with unnecessary emails. When in doubt, reply directly back to the person who sent the original email.

18. Think before forwarding

Best practice for forwarding is to summarize what's being discussed, so the recipient quickly knows what you're sharing with them. It's also important to keep in mind that some emails are not intended to be forwarded and may contain private or sensitive information. Use caution when forwarding.

19. Use Bcc appropriately

Bcc stands for blind carbon copy. Any email recipients specified in the Bcc field do not appear in the header or to the recipients in the To or Cc fields. Using Bcc is good etiquette if you want to protect someone's email address from being exposed to others. For example, if you email a group of subcontractors about a change in policy or procedure, it is appropriate to Bcc everyone on the list.

20. Start new email threads for new topics

If you want to address a new topic with a group or individual, begin a new message rather than adding the matter to an existing and unrelated thread. This method ensures you and other recipients keep communications as organized as possible.