The average person sends and receives somewhere around 122 business emails per day. That’s a pretty surprising statistic, isn’t it?
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But, when you take a few minutes to think about it, it actually isn’t that shocking. We’re all pretty obsessed with our inboxes. Personally, I have six email accounts, and I usually feel like I can’t step away from any sort of screen for more than two minutes without a new email making its way to me.
Needless to say, when we’re all constantly inundated with new messages popping up in our inboxes, it becomes all too easy to let email etiquette slip a bit. And that doesn’t always present an issue! Really, there’s nothing wrong with keeping your messages casual when you’re replying to a friend about lunch plans or asking for a recipe from your mom. In fact, it’d probably be downright weird if you were incredibly polished and formal in those emails.
However, when those relaxed and offhand email habits begin to make their way into your professional correspondence—such as an email accompanying a job application or a request for an informational interview—then you can start to seem sloppy and even a little lazy.
So, if you’ve begun to get a little too lax with your messages, it’s probably time for a quick refresher on the etiquette involved with professional emails. Here’s what you need to know!
1. Put some thought into your subject line.
Since we’re all coping with cluttered inboxes on a daily basis, you need to make it obvious and convery exactly what your message is about—particularly in a professional setting, when you know the person on the receiving end of your note is already insanely busy.
So, be as descriptive as possible with your subject line. Something vague like: “Thought you’d love this!” works just fine as your subject when passing along a helpful article to your friend. But something more detailed such as: “Great article about networking tips!” is better for a professional contact.
2. Use an actual greeting and signoff.
I can understand wanting to keep your email as brief and direct as possible. But, I don’t believe in completely eliminating these two traditional components. Think of email as a digital letter. Your greeting and signoff tie your whole message together, as well as maintain a certain level of professionalism—rather than making it obvious that you quickly and distractedly typed out the entire message on your iPhone while you were in line at the grocery store (even if that’s true!).
Whether you want to start with a super formal “Dear Susan,” or use something more conversational like, “Hey, Susan!” is totally up to you. The important part is to remember to include these standard elements.
3. Skip shorthand and emojis!
While the two communication forms have become remarkably similar, please recognize that email is still not the same thing as texting. This means you should totally skip the shorthand and acronyms like LOL, OMG, and even Haha. They have no place in professional emails! Instead use complete phrases: “That’s too funny!” and even a simple, “Wow!” to get the same point across and in a way that’s far more polished and professional.
Emojis are open to debate when it comes to work-related correspondence—and even I’ve been known to toss in a friendly smiley face every now and then when emailing a professional contact I have a somewhat close relationship with. But, if you’re feeling even the slightest bit unsure, you’re better off leaving these out completely. The same rule applies to exclamation points. Used sparingly, they’re a great way to express enthusiasm. However, overuse them, and they just become obnoxious. Limit them to only sentences where you truly want to share excitement.
4. Be cautious with humor.
I’m sure your sarcasm is charming and hilarious in person. In your emails, however? It can easily make you come across as brash and rude. So, unless the person on the receiving end of your message already has a really good feel for your personality and sense of humor, you’ll want to proceed with caution when it comes to using witty come-backs in your message.
Yes, I know that can make it feel like your emails are totally void of your personality. However, you’d rather have them seem a bit dry and dull than blatantly offensive. Right?
5. Proofread, proofread, proofread!
We’ve all read the emails that are littered with typos and errors. What was your impression of the sender? Well, I’m willing to bet you thought that person was sloppy. If he or she couldn’t even take the time to spell your name correctly, you’re likely not too excited about needing to continue a professional relationship with that person.
It should go without saying, but it’s imperative you proofread your emails before sending. Check for grammar errors and typos, and make sure that you’ve correctly spelled any proper nouns (think people and company names!). Also, don’t neglect to take a second look at the email address (you want to make sure you’re sending to the correct person) and subject line. A subject that reads, “I’d love you’re help!” likely won’t make the best first impression.
6. Respond promptly.
Admittedly, this is a point I wrestle with a bit. On the one hand, I wish we could eliminate that immense pressure we all feel to be constantly connected. But, on the other hand, I know how frustrating it is to be waiting on a response from someone when I desperately need an answer.
So, when it comes to your professional emails, make it your goal to respond promptly—usually within one business day. Even if you can’t pull together a detailed reply in that amount of time, you should at least touch base and let the sender know you’ve received the message and are working on it. It’s far better than leaving that person wondering if their note is floating aimlessly in cyberspace.
However, don’t sacrifice quality for speed. You don’t want to fire off a half-hearted reply so quickly that you neglect to put together a thoughtful and beneficial response (unless you’re just sending one of the above mentioned confirmation emails). People won’t be happy to receive your reply if it totally misses the mark or fails to answer all of their questions.
We all feel chained to our inboxes. So, who can really blame us for letting our email etiquette slide a little bit? But, when it comes to your work and career-related correspondence, it’s important you do your best to remain as professional as possible. Use these tips and you’re sure to craft polished emails!