10 Things We Can Learn From Email Etiquette Month

Business email etiquette

Online communication has long been the scapegoat for a lack of personal communication skills that is seemingly growing in business and society. Pat Stonehouse, a business etiquette expert with Advancing with Style, established March as National E-mail Etiquette month to help boost proper use of e-mail when it comes to business communications.

“E-mail has changed how we communicate in business, and has become the predominant language of corporate culture. It comes with its own set of rules called ‘netiquette’”, reads Stonehouse’s website.

And the statistics back up his claims since 90 percent of all business interaction nowadays is done via email. One mistake in protocol can really have a devastating effect on how you are viewed by co-workers, employers, and clients. Repeat this mistake 90 percent of the time and productivity is certain to suffer.

To help people in your office communicate more effectively and professionally, teach them some of the basic “rules” of email etiquette.

  1. Reply promptly. Most companies encourage their employees to respond to e-mails within 24 hours. Not only does this protocol give value to your recipients, but it helps prevent important e-mails from getting buried underneath 107 trillion e-mail messages that are sent every year. When people respond to e-mails more quickly it also helps encourage them to clean out their inbox.
  2. Keep it short. E-mail clients are not word processors. If you want to write a novel, use Microsoft Word or OpenOffice.org’s Writer. E-mail’s purpose is short, concise communication. When e-mails are too long, the reader often misses essential points that you are trying to communicate.
  3. Format your messages correctly. Use a proper salutation, close the email message properly and be sure to include a signature. As mail administrators, teaching users how to create and change their signatures is often a frustrating experience. Consider recording a video for them to watch that details every step of this process to make your life easier.
  4. Spell check everything. Every e-mail client has a robust spell checker. Users need to make sure that every business related e-mail they send out is run through this. Misspelled words not only look unprofessional but they make clients question how much effort is put into your work.
  5. Reread your e-mail, and then reread it again. By now we all know that spell checkers don’t catch using words the wrong way. It’s and its, there and their, know and no, etc.  Using a word improperly is just as bad as spelling a word wrong, but that is not all that you should be checking for. Read over your e-mails and check the content and tone of your writing. People can’t read body language through e-mails so they may not be able to interpret humor or sarcasm so it is best to avoid anything that reads as such.
  6. Leave out the emoticons. There is no place for smileys and such in a business email. Emoticons not only look unprofessional, but many people don’t even know what they mean. The same holds true for abbreviations that are used in text and instant messaging. While you are at it, make sure to have your co-workers forget the animated gifs in their subject lines as well.
  7. Use a meaningful subject line. 35% of recipients open e-mail based on the subject line alone. If you want your e-mails to be read, and responded to, then descriptive, meaningful subject lines are the best protocol to follow. Encourage this practice with your co-workers.
  8. Avoid the inappropriate. Many companies have policies in place that prohibit sending chain letters, pornography, jokes, and other inappropriate items through company e-mail. Yet it still happens. Stress to people that sending these types of e-mails is not only unprofessional but it wastes peoples’ time and it fills inboxes with unnecessary junk.
  9. Know how to reply. When you respond to an e-mail you have the option to reply or reply to all. Many users don’t know which one to use. Stress that reply to all should only be used when everyone on the recipient list needs to see the response; otherwise they should just use the reply button.
  10. Attachments should be used appropriately. When users send an attachment they should identify what program it was created in and what should be used to open it. When receiving an attachment, recipients should also ask permission of the originator before forwarding it on.

Most importantly, however, you should stress to your co-workers that e-mail is not private and it never should be sent with any expectation of privacy.

Written by Jeff


  1. Jenna Malony · March 26, 2011

    Using emoticons depends on the style and mood of the conversation. But it should not be overused. My boss sometimes use emoticons. I dont agree to eradicating it completely.

    About using a subject line, if you want to be in control of the conversation, you can change the subject line, even if it’s replying to someone. If you want to highlight, you can CAPSLOCK parts of the subject’s texts.

  2. Lisa Richardson · March 26, 2011

    A great list – it is especially helpful for new employees who are far from the world of business! I would add that it is not only emoticons and abbreviations to avoid – you also need to use proper style and language. If your sentences and paragraphs are written in an ambiguous way, the recipient might get you wrong. Emoticons help to show that you are friendly or sad but you just need to write the email in a way it can be understood without the need of emoticons. An email is just a business letter and as such it must conform to the rules of writing business letters.

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