Etiquette refers to a protocol, a set of rules that regulate social behaviors according to the standards of society. More specifically, email etiquette offers a series of guidelines for writing and answering email messages. As in traditional communication, the tone of emails depends on who the email is addressed to and the purpose of the letter. A note to a friend will sound different than an important report to the CEO of a company.
The following overview highlights the main email etiquette rules that should be taken into consideration when writing a formal email.
Choosing the proper address/sender/subject
The first aspect relates to the address/sender/subject lines. The name of the person to whom the letter is addressed should be formally typed and use the proper capitalization. The same is true for the name of the sender. Writing just the first name or the email address would be too informal and would show a lack of competence in configuring the email program correctly. The subject of the message should be concise and clear. The buttons “Reply to all,” “Carbon Copy” (CC), and “Blind Carbon Copy” (BCC) should be used carefully to make sure that only the persons involved receive a particular message and that privacy is adequately preserved.
Addressing a person
Addressing a person should follow the common courtesy rules, using Mrs, Mr, Dr, and other titles unless the writer and reader have already made different arrangements. There is a substantial difference in opening a letter with “Dear Mrs. Jane Doe” instead of “Hey Jane, how are you doing?”
In addition, the author of the email should introduce him/herself in the case of a new contact, and add a reminder of his/her professional role within the communication, avoiding the assumption that the receiver remembers all the people with whom he/she corresponds.
Writing the main topic
The part addressing the main topic of the email should be formally written, clear, and straight-to-the-point. It is paramount not to share confidential or private information, especially when dealing with sensitive business. The message should be tailored to the target, both as regards the formality level and to make communication as efficient as possible.
What to avoid
Attachments and special formatting should be used carefully to prevent anti-spam programs from identifying the letter as spam. Slang, jargon, emoticons, exclamation points, and shortcuts should be avoided, as they would make the text unprofessional. For example, the use of “u” instead of “you,” or “4” instead of “for” is unacceptable in a formal context. An email should always end with a signature. Besides having the title and name correctly formatted, using a signature file is a smart idea to deliver relevant information such as address, telephone and fax numbers, and website address. A favorite quote is also allowed, although it should be removed if it could annoy the receiver. Finally, proofreading and editing should be undertaken before sending an email to prevent grammar mistakes, inaccuracies, or odd wording. Even an insignificant typing mistake can lower the effectiveness of a message notably, jeopardizing the desired outcomes and skewing the image of the sender.
Writing an email follows the usual rules of traditional communication with regard to addressing, development of the topic, and signature. However, email etiquette provides specific guidelines to handle addresses, recipients, formatting, and attachments. Excessive familiarity, use of jargon, confusing text, and mistakes affect communication negatively. Receiver and sender should be clearly and formally highlighted, and the subject should be correctly written. A letter that follows this etiquette is effective and creates a positive impression that is likely to result in successful outcomes.