Email Rules for Professionals

Netiquette You Should Know

While everyone uses email for at least some business communications each month, some of us will use email as a daily tool to do our professional work.  We will use email to communicate with customers, teammates, superiors, and possible new hires or possible new employers.  And yes, these people will judge us by our ability to craft a clear and professional written message.

Email etiquette, or 'netiquette', has been around for the 27 years of the World Wide Web. Netiquette is a set of widely-accepted guidelines for how to show respect and competence in your email. Sadly, there are people who have never taken the time to learn email netiquette for business settings.  Even worse: there are people who confuse email netiquette with the loose and informal style of text messaging. 

Don't let a poorly crafted email kill your credibility with a customer or a superior or a potential employer. Here are the email netiquette rules that will serve you well, and save you embarrassment in the workplace.

Insert the email address as the last thing you do before sending.

Insert the email address as the last thing before you send!
Insert the email address as the last thing before you send!. fenix 1984 / Getty

This seems counter-intuitive, but this is excellent form. You wait until the very end of your writing and proofreading before you add the email address(es) to the email header. This technique will save you the embarrassment of accidentally sending the message too soon before you've  finished your content and proofreading.

This is particularly critical for a longer email that has sensitive content, like submitting a job application, responding to a customer's question, or communicating bad news to your team. In these cases, deferring the email address adds safety when you need to step away from your email for a while to collect your thoughts and rehearse your words in your mind.

If you are replying to an email, and you consider the content to have sensitivities, then simply delete the recipient's email address temporarily until you are ready to send, and then add the address back.  You could alternatively cut-and-paste the recipient's email address into a Notepad file or OneNote page, write the email, and then cut-and-paste the email address back.

Believe us on this: a blank email address line while authoring will save you substantial grief one day!

Triple check that you are emailing the correct person.

Netiquette: make sure you are emailing the correct Michael!
Netiquette: make sure you are emailing the correct Michael!. Image Source / Getty

This is particularly important if you work in a large company or government department. When you are sending a sensitive email to 'Mike' or 'Heather' or 'Mohammed', your email software will want to predictively type the full address for you.  Popular names like these will have many results in your company address book, and you could accidentally send a grouchy later to your vice president, or a confidential reply to people down in accounting.

Thanks to the #1 netiquette rule above, you've left addressing to the end, so triple-checking the recipient's email address should go smoothly as your last step before sending!

Avoid 'Reply to All', especially in a large company.

Netiquette: avoid clicking 'Reply to All'
Netiquette: avoid clicking 'Reply to All'. Hidesy / Getty

When you receive a broadcast sent to dozens of people, it's wise to only reply to the sender. This is especially true if it is a company broadcast with large distribution lists.

For example: the general manager emails the whole company about parking in the south lot, and she asks people respect the numbered and assigned stalls that employees pay for.  If you click 'reply to all' and start complaining that other employees encroach on your personal vehicle and scratch your paint, you could hurt your career advancement by becoming the company shmuck.

Nobody wants to receive messages that do not apply to them.  Even more so, nobody appreciates complaining to the group or hearing about your personal grievances aired in a broadcast format.

Avoid this faux pas and use individual reply to the sender as your default action.  Definitely see Rule #9 below, too. 

Use professional greetings instead of colloquial expressions.

Netiquette: professional salutations > colloquialisms
Netiquette: professional salutations > colloquialisms. Hill Street Studios / Getty

The best way to start a professional email is some version of the following:

1. Good afternoon, Ms. Chandra.
2. Hello, project team and volunteers.
3. Hi, Jennifer.
4. Good morning, Patrick.

Do NOT, under any circumstances, use the following to start a professional email:

1. Hey, 
2. Sup, team!
3. Hi, Jen.
4. Mornin, Pat.

Colloquial expressions like 'hey', 'yo', 'sup' may seem friendly and warm to you, but they actually erode your credibility in a business setting. While you can certainly use these colloquialisms in conversation once you have a trusted rapport with the other person, it is a bad idea to use these words in a business email.

Additionally, it is bad form to take spelling shortcuts, like 'mornin'. It is very bad form to shorten someone's name (Jennifer --> Jen) unless that person has expressly asked you to do so.

As with any intelligent business communications, it is smart to err on the side of being too formal and demonstrating that you believe in etiquette and respect.

Proofread every message, as if your professional reputation depended on it.

Netiquette: proofread as though your reputation depended on it
Netiquette: proofread as though your reputation depended on it. Maica / Getty

And indeed, your reputation is easily dismantled by poor grammar, bad spelling, and ill-chosen words.  

Imagine how your professionalism will take a hit if you accidentally send 'You need to check your meth, Ala' when you really meant to say 'you need to check your math, Alma'.  Or if you say 'I can do an intervue on tomorrow' when you meant 'I can do an interview tomorrow'.

Proofread every email you send; do it as if your professional reputation depends on it.

A concise and clear subject line will achieve wonders (and help you get read).

Netiquette: a clear subject line will achieve wonders
Netiquette: a clear subject line will achieve wonders (and help you get read). Charlie Shuck / Getty

The subject line is both a title for communication, and a way to summarize and tag your email so it can be easily found later. It should clearly summarize the content, and any desired action.

For example, a subject line:  'coffee' isn't very clear. 

Instead, try 'Staff coffee preferences: your response is required'

As a second example, the subject line 'your request' is too vague.

Instead, try a clearer subject line like: 'Your request for parking: more details are required'.

Use only the two classic fonts: Arial and Times Roman variants, with black ink.

Netiquette: use classic fonts only (Arial and Times Roman variants)
Netiquette: use classic fonts only (Arial and Times Roman variants). Pakington / Getty

It can be tempting to add stylish font faces and colors to your email to make it flashy, but you're better off using black 12-pt or 10-pt Arial or Times New Roman. Similar variants like Tahoma or Calibri are fine, too. And if you are drawing attention to a specific phrase or bullet, then red ink or bold font can be very helpful in moderation.

The problem is when your emails start to become incoherent and unfocused, or start to convey maverick or disruptive attitude on your part. In the world of business, people want communications to trustworthy and clear and brief, not decorative and distracting. 

Avoid sarcasm and negative/snooty tones, at all costs.

Netiquette: avoid sarcasm and watch your writing tone!
Netiquette: avoid sarcasm and watch your writing tone!. Whitman / Getty

Email always fails to convey vocal inflection and body language.  What you think is direct and straightforward may actually come across as harsh and mean once it is put into your email. Not using the words 'please' and 'thank you' will cause negative undercurrents.  And what you consider humorous and light might actually transmit as condescending and rude.

Delivering a respectful tone and personable demeanour in email takes practice and a lot of experience. It helps when you read the email out loud to yourself, or even someone else, before you send it. If anything about the email seems mean or harsh, then rewrite it.

If you're still stuck with how to convey the tone of something in an email, then seriously consider picking up the phone and delivering the message as a conversation. 

Remember: email is forever, and once you send that message, you can never pull it back.

Assume that the world will read your email, so plan accordingly.

Netiquette: assume that the world will read your email
Netiquette: assume that the world will read your email. RapidEye / Getty

In truth, email is forever. It can be forwarded to hundreds of people within seconds. It can be called up by law enforcement and tax auditors should there ever be an investigation. It can even make it into the news or social media.

This is a broad and frightening responsibility, but it's one that we all shoulder:  what you write in an email could easily become public knowledge. Choose your words carefully, and if you think there is any chance that it could bite you back, then seriously consider not sending the message at all.

Always end with a short classy 'thank you' and a signature block.

Netiquette: end with a classy thank you and signature block
Netiquette: end with a classy thank you and signature block. DNY59 / Getty

The power of niceties like 'thank you' and 'please' are immeasureable.  Also, the extra several seconds to include your professional signature block speaks volumes about your attentiveness to detail, and that you take ownership of your communications by stamping your name and contact information.


Hello, Shailesh.

Thank you for your inquiry into our embroidery services at TGI Sportswear.  I would be very happy to speak with you on the phone to tell you more about our sports jackets options for your team.  We could also have you visit our showroom later this week, and I can show you our samples in person.

What number may I call you at?  I'm available to talk after 1:00 pm today.

Thank you,

Paul Giles
Director of Client Services
TGI, Incorporated
587 337 2088 |
"Your branding is our focus"

More From Us