To Send or Not to Send? A Refresher on Work Email Etiquette

Many of us don’t remember a time where we didn’t communicate by email. Whether it’s sending a website redesign RFP to a listserv, a job description to friends and networks, or spreading the news about the debut of a book, film, or other creative projects, email is one the easiest and most effective ways to communicate professionally. Most of us have used email for so long, that frankly, we don’t always execute the care we should when sending one. Just like any other form of business communications, there are several approaches you can use to craft informative and useful emails. Read on to get a quick refresher on good email etiquette.

Can it be said over the phone? Or in person?

The average office worker receives 121 emails per day — and most people think that that’s 121 too many. Spare your fellow co-workers’ inboxes! Do you really need to send that email? If you can go to someone’s desk and say it face-to-face or pick up the phone and relay it to someone, save the email for another day. Your co-workers will thank you.

Improve group dynamics.

It’s always best to limit the potential back-and-forth that can happen in a group email thread. However, as input is received or actions are taken, it’s often necessary to loop someone in or remove someone. With no strategies in place, either action can make an email thread become messy. The best way to keep everyone up to speed is to simply mention in the body of the email who is being added or dropped. Some suggest adding a quick note like “+1 [NAME]” or simply “adding [NAME].” For those moving on, a statement such as “Moving [NAME] and [NAME]… to save their inboxes” will work. If the thread still gets out of hand, relieve your stress and set up a phone call instead.

Overcome attachment anxiety.

Email is one of the more convenient ways to share documents. However, sometimes things get a little wild when naming these attachments. To make things simple, save the attachment as the type of document plus the date. (For example, blog post_2.13.19.) Are several people reviewing a document? Avoid confusion by encouraging everyone to add their initials to the file name. (For example, blog post_2.13.19_TAH.)

Include relevant information in the email itself.

If you’re sending information about a meeting, event, job posting, or anything else that has multiple points of information, be sure to include this in the email. Don’t assume someone will open an attachment — a recipient may not be able to open it, or may not even notice that an attachment has been included. If you really want to make sure that certain information is seen, place it in the body of the email.

Keep it short and sweet.

We’ve already mentioned the number of emails people receive per day. Like all of us, our co-workers and clients also only have a limited amount of time. With that in mind, try to keep your emails as short and succinct as possible.

Engage your inner editor.

Take an extra minute or two to read over what you’ve written, out loud, if possible. Not only will you catch potentially embarrassing typos, but you may also find a few sentences here and there to cut. (Some even suggest deleting 15 words from every email you write.) You may even realize that you’ve basically written the same idea over and over — and no one has time to read that!

Make your call to action clear.

What do you want someone to do after they read your email? If it’s to inform, ensure the pertinent information is given (see #5). But if you want to make sure someone takes an action, make that very clear. You can refine your request by using bold text or bullet points. (Or both!) Or consider putting “action requested” in the subject line or body. If that seems too aggressive, but you want to make sure a particular action has been taken, set aside a time to send a follow-up email.

Angry? Don’t send that email!

Have you ever received an email where your first response is to give someone a piece of your mind? Don’t do it! Just as it’s good advice to avoid conversations when we’re “seeing red,” try not to send an email when you’re angry. You don’t want to have something in writing that you might regret later. Plus, it can be difficult to understand someone’s tone over email – not everyone is able to precisely write out their thoughts. Take a moment to cool down, then reply.

Think twice if you can’t be nice.

If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it in an email. Even if what you want to write is true! Aside from creating potentially unnecessary animosity, there is always the chance that your email will be read by unintended recipients. If you need to be critical, there are several tactful and constructive ways to go about it. Diplomacy is a virtue, especially in the workplace.

Use “reply all” sparingly.

There are so many stories of people hitting “reply all” when they probably shouldn’t have. While this can occasionally be entertaining, frankly, it often becomes downright irritating. Always check the “To” field on the email before hitting “send.” This advice even applies to industry-focused listserv emails, where by design, “reply all” should be used. However, listserv emails often result in long conversations that may not interest anyone but a few specific people. If you have a question that is of interest to one person or entity specifically, take it off the listserv and write that person directly. Fellow listserv members will appreciate it!

Separate the personal from the professional.

If you’re friendly with the recipient of your email, it may be tempting to write them the way you might speak to them offline. For proper email etiquette, that’s not the best idea. Instead, keep it professional and communicate with them as you would anybody else. Don’t go into detail about your non-work activities (especially if they’re romantic!). And never forget that your work email does not legally belong to you.

What are your best email etiquette tips for navigating internal and external communications? Share them on Twitter along with this post!