Email Etiquette 101
In the age of statuses, stories and Snapchats, the days of email are not yet dead.
For a lot of us, email is the most common form of communication; whether that’s for work, school or any other professional environment – so it’s important to get it right.
Although emails aren’t usually as formal as letters, there’s a few do’s and don’ts that will help you present a good image for you or who you’re representing.
So, here’s everything you need to know about writing a professional email.
Before you get writing…
…there are a few things you should check when formatting your email.
1. Use a professional email address
Ideally, your email address should include a variation of your real name. It’s common to separate names with hyphens, full stops, or underscores.
Avoid using unnecessary numbers and letters if you can. Sad as it may be, it might be time to finally part with your MSN email address you made when you were 12. We’re here for you.
email@example.com = bad
firstname.lastname@example.org = good
2. Stick to an easy-to-read font
Many email services now give you the option to use a variety of fonts or text styles, but it’s good to stick to a font and font-size that is clear and easy to read.
For this, it may pay to stick to the default font and size that your email service provides for you. This is usually a font like Sans Serif or Arial and in size 12. As much as we all love Comic Sans, it’s safe to avoid decorative fonts like this.
And, unless the email calls for it, avoid using special styles like highlighted/colored words or italics. You should aim to get your message across through plain and simple text!
3. Provide a subject line
You want to provide a subject line that briefly summarizes the gist of your email in a couple of words.
If the subject line is…
- Empty: the recipient might overlook your email thinking it’s unimportant.
- Too vague: (e.g. ‘Email about something important’ or ‘Quick question’) it’s not obvious enough to be useful.
- Too lengthy: (e.g. ‘Meeting on Wednesday about further steps for advertising, possible catering options and what went well in June’) it will be overwhelming and may not all be needed as these specific details will be covered in the email itself.
But, if your subject line is…
Short and to the point: (e.g. ‘Wednesday meeting RE: Monthly recap’) your recipient will straight away know the primary point of the email and what they can expect.
4. Think about who you’re sending it to
You may only want to send your email to one person, but there is the option to Cc and Bcc other recipients.
Cc stands for ‘carbon copy.’ It’s useful when you want someone else to receive a copy of an email but they aren’t one of the primary recipients. You would use Cc if you want the primary recipient/s to know who else the message has been sent to.
If you’re unsure whether someone belongs plainly in the ‘To’ field or the Cc field, blanket email etiquette suggests that the To field is generally for the main recipient/s of your email. The Cc field is for sending a copy of the information to other interested parties.
For example, you send an email to your form teacher saying you’re going away on a science trip, and you Cc your biology teacher to show you’re not just skipping class.
Bcc stands for ‘blind carbon copy.’ It’s essentially the same thing as a Cc, but only you can see who you have Bcc’d – the primary recipient/s can’t. Bcc’s aren’t often used in professional environments as it can seem like some shady business is going on, but a general rule of thumb is that Bcc’s are useful when the number of recipients exceeds 30.
When writing your email…
…there are six simple steps you can incorporate to make sure your email is perfectly professional.
1. Greet the person you are writing to
Always begin an email with a greeting. There’s no one way to do this, but here are a few options you can choose from.
If your relationship with the recipient is formal, such as a teacher, open with a formal salutation and use their surname.
For example, ‘Dear Mr. Guzzo,’ or ‘Kia ora Mr. Guzzo.’
If the relationship is more casual, you can simply use first names.
For example, ‘Hi William,’ or ‘Kia ora William.’ (Side note: how beautiful is the formal interchangeability of ‘Kia ora’?)
If you don’t know who you’re writing to, such as if you’re applying for a scholarship or job, start the email with something like:
‘To whom it may concern,’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam.‘
2. [If you’re replying to an email] Thank the recipient
If someone got back to your initial email, or even if someone reached out to you first, you should always thank the recipient first.
To show your appreciation for someone’s efforts to help you, you could say something like:
‘Thank you for getting back to me’ or ‘Thank you for your prompt reply.’
Or, if someone reached out to you, you can put the sender at ease and show them you’re open to what they have to say by saying something like:
‘Thank you for contacting me’ or if you’re replying on behalf of a company, ‘Thank you for contacting StudyTime NZ.’
Thanking people in emails will overall make you appear more polite!
3. State your purpose
If you’re beginning the email conversation, begin by stating the purpose of your communication.
For example, ‘I am contacting you in regards to…’ or ‘I am writing to inquire about…’
If you’ve never met the person you’re writing to, it might pay to even preface your purpose with a sentence about who you are.
For example, ‘My name is William Guzzo and I am the founder of StudyTime NZ. I am contacting you in regards to…’
Making your purpose clear before moving onto the main text of your email gives the reader some insight into what you or your company wants from them. Remember, no one wants to read novels of text, so keep this short and clear!
4. Keep the main text brief
When writing the actual chunk of your email, it’s easy to ramble on.
Firstly, to make sure you’re not sending a big wall of text, separate main points in your email into individual paragraphs. These are easier to read and the recipient can easily return to a point if needed.
However, you don’t want to keep hitting the enter button until your text looks like a bunch of bullet points. You can usually “feel” when a new point or topic comes naturally!
Additionally, going over the main points without covering them all in detail will help you with what to write. Unless the email specifically calls for it, a briefer email is always better – the recipient can always ask for more information if needed.
Secondly, try to use formal language. We don’t mean type in ‘[insert word here] synonym’ on Google and replace every word with a 9-letter one with the same meaning, we more mean to not use words that you’d throw around in everyday text. Save ‘oof’, ‘yikes’, and, ‘relatable AF’ for tagging your mates in memes.
Lastly, for writing the main text but also for the entirety of your email, you want to always pay close attention to your spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you’re unsure on how to write something, use the internet, ask your mate to spell check, or reword it into something you can easily get across.
Remember, while they can be formal, emails aren’t essays. You’re not going to be marked on how sophisticated your language use is, but you still want to present a professional image. Simple and friendly is best!
5. Conclude your text with closing remarks
Before ending your email, it’s polite to thank the recipient one more time and add some polite closing remarks.
For example, you could start with something like:
‘Thank you for your consideration’ or ‘Many thanks for your time.’
And follow it up with something like:
‘I look forward to hearing from you’ or ‘If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to let me know.’
*Professional email mic drop*
6. Sign off (like a boss)
The last step is to close appropriately with your name. Common formal closings include:
- ‘Kind regards,’
- ‘Ngā Mihi,’
- ‘Yours sincerely,’
Try not to use informal closings such as ‘Cheers,’ or ‘Best wishes,’ unless you already have a close relationship with the recipient.
And remember, before you hit the send button, proofread your email one more time!
All the best for your professional endeavours!