Nonexistent subject lines. Having your name spelled wrong. Being included on a totally irrelevant email. Finishing reading and then wondering, “What the heck does this person want me to do with this?”
Sigh. Are you cringing yet? I certainly hope so.
At first glance, email seems simple—it’s an efficient, effective, and convenient way to communicate. But, that doesn’t mean you can throw the rulebook out the window and forget basic etiquette.
In fact, email comes with an entire set of rules on its own that you’re going to need to follow—especially if you don’t want your recipients to heave an exasperated sigh and let out one nasty eye roll every time your name pops up in their inboxes.
Are you in need of a little brushing up on how to be a polite and courteous email sender? Here’s everything you need to know.
Addressing Your Message
1. Limit your recipients.
Email is not a situation where “the more the merrier” applies. Quite the opposite, actually. You should make a concerted effort to include only the people that absolutely need to receive that message.
Not sure how to tell who fits this criteria? Ask yourself this one simple question: What action does this person need to take after receiving this?
If you can’t think of one single thing, she likely doesn’t need to be added to your recipient list for that particular message.
Exercise that extra care, and you’ll not only avoid having too many opinions bouncing back and forth, but you also won’t clog up the inboxes of any unsuspecting and unnecessary bystanders.
2. Use BCC.
If you’re emailing a large group of people, absolutely make use of the BCC (that stands for “blind carbon copy”—you can thank me when you ace your next trivia night!) field.
Doing so protects the privacy of your recipients, as their email addresses will be invisible to everybody else. But, beyond that, the large email lists you use for your mass messages are also incredibly easy for spammers and hackers to target—meaning, if you neglect to use BCC, you’re exposing all of those nearest and dearest email contacts to threats.
While you should never (and I mean never) use BCC to passive aggressively throw someone under the bus, for example, it’s a feature that definitely comes in handy when sending impersonal emails to large groups of people.
3. Check your spelling.
If I had a dollar for every time someone started an email with, “Hey Kate,” “Hey Katie,” or even “Hey Katherine,” I’d be retired already. I’ve even received emails with a totally different name at the top—making it obvious that sender was copying and pasting that same message to numerous people.
And, as I’m sure you can understand, nothing turns a recipient off faster than getting her name wrong. So, double check who you’re addressing your email to before clicking the “send” button, and you’re much more likely to stay out of the dreaded trash bin.
Crafting Your Email
1. Use an informative subject line.
Take a minute to scroll through your inbox, and you’ll probably see a variety of generic and vague subject lines—you know, things like “Checking in,” “Following up,” or even “Meeting this week.”
I get it—nobody wants to invest a ton of elbow grease in crafting eloquent prose for just a subject line. But, put in the effort to at least make it a little more specific. Your recipient will be able to glean what you’re emailing about right from the get-go, and that message will be much easier for both of you to find at a later date.
2. Shorter is better.
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a War and Peace length email, you know firsthand how overwhelming it can be to click open that message and be greeted by a wall of seemingly neverending text.
Email is supposed to be convenient, so do your best to stay away from lengthy paragraphs that require so much scrolling that your recipients get a finger cramp.
Keep things as short and sweet as possible, while still providing enough context! Research says that somewhere between 50 and 125 words is the sweet spot. If something requires more explanation, it’s likely better talked about over the phone or in a meeting.
3. Make it easy to read.
With that in mind, aim to make your email as easy to read (ahem, skim) as you can. Use short paragraphs (no more than three lines!) and even bullet points, bold font, or subheads if your email could benefit from them.
The simpler your message is to look at, the better the likelihood of it actually being read—and responded to.
Ending on a Strong Note
1. Use a Call to Action (CTA).
Have you ever gotten all the way to the bottom of an email and thought, “OK, so… what’s your point?” The message was either so vague or cluttered, you had no idea where you were supposed to go from there.
You don’t want to make your own recipients feel that way. So, make sure to include a simple CTA at the bottom of the email.
Need her to respond with her thoughts? Say that. Need her to provide notes on a certain page of your presentation? Make that clear. Need people to reply with whether or not they’ll be attending the company barbeque? Make that question the very last thing in your email body.
Do that, and everybody will be crystal clear on what steps they need to take next.
2. Include a deadline.
Are you under the wire? Or, do you want to avoid having your message constantly get pushed to the backburner? Here’s a simple solution: Include a deadline at the bottom of your email.
Yes, it can seem a little forward if it’s not something you’re used to doing. But, most people actually appreciate clear requests and this added structure—it helps them better prioritize their own workloads.
1. Make sure you attached your attachment.
Oh, the dreaded “please see attachment” line—when there’s no attachment to be found. We’re all guilty of this, but it could easily be avoided if you just took a couple of seconds to double-check this before sending your message.
Make a mental note (or stick an actual note on your computer!) to always confirm any necessary files or links are included. It’ll save you from that embarrassing “whoops!” follow-up email.
2. Give it a quick read.
How many emails have you cranked out and sent, without ever bothering to take a second look at them? A lot, right?
Here’s the thing: Those are usually the messages that are littered with typos and grammar mistakes that would make your tenth grade English teacher put her head down in shame.
Take the extra minute to give that email a quick read, and make sure it’s polished before you send it off. It’ll save your recipients plenty of groans and headaches—and save you from embarrassment!
1. Wait a reasonable amount of time.
Even if you use perfect etiquette in your email, there’s still a chance that you won’t receive the response you desperately need. Despite the fact that we’re all permanently chained to our inboxes, we’re not always speedy with a reply.
But, with that said, there’s nothing worse than someone who follows up an hour after (or even twelve hours!) to say, “Did you get my email?!”
Wait a reasonable amount of time (at least 24 hours, and even that’s only for more urgent requests—for others be prepared to wait three full days) before checking in. If your need is really that urgent, pick up the phone.
2. Provide context.
Although a brief, “Just checking in on this!” message might seem effective, it usually ends up being frustrating. Why? Well, your recipient needs to then scroll back through your other messages to get a refresher on what you need and why you need it.
So, rather than leaving your follow up message to a few short words, make sure to provide a brief reminder of what you need from that person. Again, it’ll make it that much easier for them to respond in a timely manner.
Time to show off your phenomenal email etiquette.
Yes, email is convenient and—in many cases—casual. But, that doesn’t give you a free pass to be sloppy or inconsiderate. There are some etiquette rules you’ll want to keep in mind.
To recap, here’s what you’ll want to be aware of before pressing send.