How to Mind Your Manners With Email Etiquette

Communicate clearly and avoid common email annoyances

Despite the proliferation of online communication methods, email remains the most popular, with nearly 300 billion emails sent every day in 2019. Whether you're brand new to email or have been using it for decades, make sure you're following the rules for email etiquette.

Illustration of the 5 rules of email etiquette
Nick Reiter / Lifewire

Review Your Message Before You Send

After you enter your recipients' addresses, create an appropriate subject line, write your message, and attach a couple of supporting documents, go back and make sure you did everything right:

  • Review the message. Is anything unclear? Are there any grammatical errors or typos? Did you say everything you wanted to say?
  • Check your sources. Would a link to an outside source clarify your meaning? Would a link help your recipient find a website quickly?
  • Look at the recipient names. Did you forget an important person who needs to see the message? Did you add someone that shouldn't see the message?
  • Look at your address. If you have more than one, be sure to send the message from the most appropriate one for the purpose of the message.
  • Determine the message priority. Does the message need to be tagged as important?
  • Add supporting documents. Did you forget the attachments?

Don't Always Reply All

You should know when and when not to Reply All to group emails. If everyone in the original email (the one you're responding to) needs to know what you have to say, use Reply All.

For example, person A emails you and person B to come up with ideas about how to celebrate your boss' 10-year anniversary with the company. Your response is relevant for both person A and person B, so use Reply All to reply to both of them.

If someone sends a party invitation through email to you and 20 other friends, your response isn't relevant to the other mail recipients, so use Reply to send a response only to the original sender.

Write Effective Subject Lines

The key to writing a good email subject is to make sure that it briefly captures the essence of your message. Here are a few examples:

  • Sales Meeting Changed to 3:00
  • Halloween Party Invitation
  • Website Text Revisions
  • This Week's Top 20 Video Picks
  • Details of Your New Membership
  • Confirming Your Appointment
  • Request for Fundraising Event Volunteers

To make subject lines more effective, include the action you want the recipients to take, such as:

  • Halloween Party Invitation - RSVP by May 11
  • Website Text Revisions - Need Approval by Tuesday

Explain Why You Forward

When you forward an email message from someone else, explain to the new recipient why you're doing it and how you expect them to benefit from it. For example, let's say a client, Jay, sends you a question, and you don't know the answer. Forward the message to your colleague, Sara, with a note saying, "Sara, Jay wants to know the process for logging in to our portal from his mobile device. See below for details. Can you help?"

Explain Why You CC

If you cc someone on an email message, explain to the primary recipient that you're doing so, and why. For example, let's say Jenna wants to join your book club, and you're sending her information about it. You would cc the book club leader, Ann, and write to Jenna, "I'm cc'ing our leader, Ann, so she can see what I'm sending you and fill in anything I might have left out." When you use this process, Ann also knows why she's receiving a copy of the message.

Let the Sender Know Their Message Has Been Received

Email messages can get lost in the mail or in the spam filter. As a courtesy, especially with important messages (such as those with attachments or having to do with deadlines), write a short note to let the sender know their email was received. For example, if your boss sends you a new project to work on, reply with, "Got it, I'll get started tomorrow."

Use Acronyms Sparingly

Not everybody knows every acronym, so use as few as possible, and only when you're sure the recipient knows what they mean. There are several acronyms that are commonly used in business email correspondence. Here are a few:

  • ASAP: As Soon as Possible
  • BTW: By the Way
  • EOD: End of Day
  • EOM: End of Message (typically used in the subject line to indicate there is no email body to follow)
  • EOW: End of Week
  • FYI: For Your Information
  • IMO: In My Opinion
  • OOO: Out of Office
  • Y/N: Yes or No

Be Careful With Sarcasm and Humor

Because you don't get the context of facial expressions and tone of voice in email, it's not a good medium for expressing sarcasm or humor, especially with recipients you don't know well. Express your message simply and straightforwardly, at least until you get to know a recipient better. If you really can't help yourself, include a smiling or laughing emoticon to show you're kidding around.

Choose an Appropriate Ending

Sometimes it's hard to know how to end an email message. Here are a few suggestions, based on the situation:

  • Thanks or Many Thanks: If you're asking for a favor.
  • Love or Hugs: If the recipient is a friend or family member.
  • Cheers or Best: If the recipient is a casual acquaintance.
  • Sincerely: If your message is formal.
  • Best Regards or Kind Regards: If you want to maintain a formal business tone.
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