Is business email etiquette still important?
Communicating through business email is becoming a bit of a lost art, in my opinion. But I seriously doubt if this tried and true form of electronic communication is going away anytime soon. Therefore, learning proper business email etiquette will always be a valuable business tool to possess.
Believe it or not, you are judged by the emails you send. Business colleagues, management and most certainly customers first impression (and sometimes only impression) of you might be through a business related email. It is critically important that your email correspondence reflect a level of efficiency, professionalism and accuracy.
In this article we will take a look at some common business email mistakes, discuss what every business email should include and give out suggestions for the best email practices.
What are the most common business email “do’s and don’t’s”?
Professional use only – This may seem like an obvious best practice, but it is more commonly abused than you might think. As a business professional it is in your best interest to remain professional at all times, particularly with respect to emails. As with anything related to your business computer, the emails you send and receive are the property of the company and should be treated as such. Use your email account for business purposes only.
Level of formality – As mentioned above, email is a business tool and like any other business tool, there needs to be a “rigid observance of rules of convention or etiquette”, when using it. I’ve placed that phrase in quotation marks because that just happens to be the definition of formality.
Use a standard format – Business emails should follow a standardized format. Each should contain a clear and deliberate subject line, each should include a proper salutation and every business email should include your contact information.
We will discuss each of these components later in the article, but for now just understand that using a consistent and professional structure for your business communications makes everyone’s job easier and makes you look like a seasoned pro.
Using Copy and paste – Use extreme caution when using “copy and paste” from existing emails or more importantly from someone else’s email. This is a recipe for disaster. I have fallen into the same trap and been burned a few times with this mistake. If you choose to copy content from an existing email, you must thoroughly check to ensure that the content is specific to the new recipient.
Allowing emotion to show through – Using restraint when communicating with coworkers can be more challenging than you might think. Allowing your emotions to show through when penning an email might come back to haunt you in a big way. It is very often best to collect your thoughts when preparing to respond in anger. Giving yourself time to “cool off” might be the best idea in these situations.
In addition to editing emotion out of your emails, I also recommend against sending any correspondence in haste. It is always the best practice to thoroughly review your email for accuracy prior to hitting the “SEND” button.
How to write a Business Email?
The format for a proper business email is not all that different from a business letter. As you prepare to construct your email, you should consider your original purpose for sending it. Just like a business letter, your email will either have the purpose of conveying information or the purpose of gathering information. Once you are focused on the emails intended purpose you can specify what information you wish to convey or receive and that will be the foundation for your email.
Email will have five basic components:
- The recipients (TO, CC, BCC) – We will discuss these three options later.
- The subject line – Your emails title (for lack of a better definition)
- The salutation
- The body or contents
- The signature – Your name and contact information
The recipients – There will potentially be three types of recipients for your business email. The first category of recipient will be the direct intended recipients of the correspondence. Those people who you wish to direct receive your information or those who you wish to receive a response from are the “TO” group of recipients.
There may also be people who you wish to “carbon copy” or simply be aware that the email interaction is taking place. This group of people will be listed the “CC” section of your email.
And lastly there may be on a rare occasion, a recipient that you want to make aware of the email, but would rather the Direct recipients or carbon copied recipients not know about. This person or group of people are called the “blind carbon copy” group. This is a sensitive method of send a business email and I would use extreme caution when using this method. Sending an email with a “BCC” recipient is equivalent to having a phone conversation with a third party secretly on the line.
The subject line – As I mentioned above, the subject line is essentially the “title” of your email. This is one of three pieces of information about your email that will show up in the recipients “INBOX”. Therefore it is critical that the subject line be as meaningful as possible. It may be what determines the level of attention your email receives.
The subject line should summarize in a very concise fashion the body of the email. A proper subject line should be 3 to 7 words long and get straight to the purpose of the email.
As a final note on subject lines, you should never leave the subject line blank. A blank subject line will leave the recipient with no reason to open your email. Additionally, a blank subject line will almost always be viewed as spam by email clients.
The salutation – How tough can this be, right? Well in the business world, perception is everything, so it is important that you not get off on the wrong foot with your email. Always remain professional when addressing your recipient/s. Informal greetings such as “Hey” and “Hi” are not suitable for business correspondence. It is best to stick with generic greetings such as “Good morning” or “Good Day”.
And remember, if you are going to copy and paste and use “Good morning” as your salutation, please change the salutation to reflect the proper time of day. I can promise you that your recipient will catch the error.
The body or contents – The body of your email should be as focused as possible on your intended subject. However, you may want to start with a brief introduction, particularly if your recipient is not familiar with you. An email that is being sent to a new customer or client might start with “Good morning Mr. Roth: My name is Glenn Hodges, owner of Business Travel Gadgets.com and I am writing to inform you that…”.
Once you have identified yourself clearly, you should complete the introductory paragraph of you email with the intended purpose of the correspondence. In many cases this will be the full extent of the email. Particularly if you are sending an interoffice email, you will say “This is what I want you to know…” or “This is what I need to know…”.
Do not get fancy with the formatting of your contents. Keep it simple and use typical letter writing syntax and punctuation. Never send and email in ALL CAPS, as you know, this is considered to be raising your voice, which is never acceptable in the business world.
It is often useful to give priority to your purpose. Include phrases such as “I am hoping to get this resolved today….” or “Please give this a high priority…” when appropriate. Use caution not to over use these phrases though, as they will start to lose their meaning when over done.
Always proof read your content. A professional business email will lose all credibility if filled with mispellings and improper sytax. Every email program includes spell check, so use it often. Understand that you know what you are trying to say, so you may not be the best person to proof read your own email. If the email is going to a client or holds a hightened level of importance, get someone you trust to proof read it for you.
The signature – The most important best practice regarding your email signature is to provide as much contact information as possible. Your signature should contain anywhere from 3 to 7 lines of information. At a minimum your “sig lines” should include your name, title and company name. It is common to also include information such as a phone number and/or an email address. It may also a good idea to include a link to your website, if applicable.
Some additional Business Email Tips and Suggestions:
.Attachments – Double checking your attachment is always a good practice to follow. First, it ensures that you did in fact attach the document and gives you the opportunity to make sure that the attachment works.