E-MAIL etiquette

N-etiquette rose NETWORKING is the art of building mutually beneficial long term business relationships.  These relationships thrive on professional courtesy and mutual respect.  Note: this is not the same as friendship.   Many of  those in your network will never be seen outside of the office.  Many will never even be seen but may be suppliers or freelance consultants or members of internet forums that your know through correspondence only.  Occasionally, a member of your network will become a friend, as a general rule, however, a network is more stable when each member is respected for the quality, amount and professionalism of their work as well as their knowledge of the field in general.  Simply:  Good Manners Are Good Business.

by  N-etiquette.com

There are many etiquette differences between business correspondence and personal correspondence.    Remember that the internet has put you in contact with others, whose culture, language, and humor are necessarily different from what you are used to. Date formats, measurements, and idioms may be different also. 

E-mails are a less formal mode of correspondence, which narrows the gap in the rules significantly, but there are still some common sense distinctions.

Business E-mails 
Personal E-mails

Business E-mails

Remember the six important business rules?  

1)Always acknowledge others
2)Time is money.
3)Practice making it look easy.
4)Lend a helping hand.
5)Develop a "business" sense of humor.
6)Maintain your skill levels 

 Your goal is to show respect for others as individuals and for their accomplishments, and for what they represent.  This can be done informally as well as formally.

Many either do not have - or choose not to use - an HTML option for their e-mail.  Without this, it is difficult to show stress points in a sentence (using different colors, bold font, underline, etc.).  Be extremely careful with the use of capitalization to make a point.  A message that is delivered in capitals is considered "shouting" or "flaming" on the internet.  This is considered extremely rude.

E-mail needs to be addressed properly every time. Greetings are essential - names are important.  There are many macros that can be stored and used for proper salutations and signatures.  Always note the original headings on any emails received before responding to them.  Your first determination will be whether to "reply" or to "reply all".

When e-mail is in regard to a committee type subject - it is courteous to send your response To: the person whom it directly affects and CC: All other members of the committee  When e-mail addresses the entire Committee, all members should be on the To: Line.  They should be listed with Committee head first, then by order of importance.  If one is not sure of the order of importance, it is better to list the Committee head first, then list names alphabetically rather than offend anyone.

In a business situation, it is best not to use the BCC (blind carbon copy) option.  The recipient of a business e-mail has every right to expect that they have a list of all recipients of this particular correspondence.

Chain letters are inappropriate for business contacts.

E-cards may be sent for most any occasion now.  It is fast and easy at most e-card web sites to choose and address all the cards that you need for a month and then choose the date that they will be sent during the month so that their arrival can be timed to the occasion.  It might appear an excellent idea to establish a birthday card list for members of your network. Use caution with this idea, though.  More rancor may be caused by dropping the list later if you cannot keep it up than the goodwill generated by establishing it.  Use caution with the humorous or personal cards.

A thank you for a business courtesy, an interview, a mentor's intervention or advice, any invaluable business assistance, is still better presented as an informal note of one or two lines on a good quality personal note card.

Time is money.

Set up those macros for email greetings and signatures.

Unless you know that the recipient can retrieve html e-mail, send it in plain text.

For each person or company that you deal with at work, privately establish a comprehensive list with as much information as possible (name, nickname, honorifics, telephone, fax, mobile numbers; e-mail addresses; office addresses; website URLs; etc.)  Do not interrogate to get this information<g>.  As you need information or it becomes available to you, simply add it to your personal directory. 

A reply to an e-mail - and replies to that reply are called a "string" or a "thread".  Many times, when working in house on a project with another person, it is beneficial to leave all old e-mails together.  This way, only the latest e-mail will be kept - all others deleted - and the one e-mail will reflect the full development and agreement of the plan or idea.  In a discussion involving more than one other person, this is counterproductive. (If two or more reply to one e-mail all will not be reflected in your single thread.)  

For this reason, most Forums have a rule that one must "snip" on reply.  This is simply deleting the original e-mail below your reply except for one or two basic lines that you would have to repeat otherwise in order to make your response coherent.

Do not "spam".  In business, this refers  to  multiple e-mails and to unsolicited e-mail offers of any type.  Irrelevant information sent to mailing lists or forums is referred to as "kook spamming".  One example of spamming, unfortunately shows extreme lack of care on the part of the ignorant spammer - seeing an e-mail from a friend, the spammer shoots off a reply without looking at the "To:" box. If the original e-mail came not directly from the friend but through an e-mail list such as a forum, the response is then broadcast to every member of the list. 

For each forum or group that you join, know the rules and follow them.  If you wish to subscribe, unsubscribe, etc. look up the correct address to do so.  Sending an e-mail to the entire list is spamming. 

Proper cell phone etiquette rules are easy commonsense adaptations.

Practice making it look easy.  Everyone recognizes an expert by the ease with which he accomplishes an often done task.  

Once you have your macros and drafts set up, you will find that the average e-mail or memo should be completed within 2 1/2 minutes.  No one else will be this fast, so use this time to your advantage.  

Complete your e-mail or memo.

Run spell-check.  Verify accuracy of numbers and statements.  Double check recipients.

Let it sit.  (Yes, you heard right<g>)  Do an unrelated task, then go back and scan your memo / e-mail before sending.  You will surprise yourself with the errors or refinements that you will see once you have let it get "cold".  

Lend a helping hand.  Only your personal comprehensive list of contacts is off-limits and as it is your secret that you have one, that need not be stated.   

Keep your most used macros (for salutations, greetings, addresses, etc.) on disk and offer to make a copy to the newbies in your office.  

Keep other reference materials on your desk and be generous about lending them for reference during the day.  (A small bookshelf of good reference materials by your desk adds to your professional appearance also.)

Forums generally have a constant influx of "newbie" participants.  If you have done well in responding to a particular problem - explained the answer clearly and simply - keep the answer.  It will be needed again, and with your organization of macros and drafts you will be in a position to help quickly and smoothly.

Develop a "business" sense of humor.  Humor is essential to being liked  - but  make sure that it is inoffensive and is at no one's expense - even your own.   Sure, send an apt cartoon with your emails but follow the guidelines of business humor.  Informal does not mean unprofessional.

Emoticons suitable for some informal e-mails:

  :> or :-> = Devilish grin
  :] or :-] = Friendly
  :( or :-( = Frowning
  :/ or :-/ = Frustrated 
 :) or :-) = Smiling
   :O or :-O = Surprised
   ;) or ;-)= Winking
  :} or :-} = Wry smile


Personal E-mails 

Personal e-mails are less formal, therefore there are fewer etiquette rules.

In personal e-mails, feel free to use the BCC (blind carbon copy) option.  This shows respect for the recipient, as all they see is their own name in the "To:" space - as opposed to being one of a "herd" of recipients.

Never send personal information, jokes, web page references to someone's work e-mail address.  If you need to contact them and this is the only address that you have, simply send a line stating "... I really need to speak with you today, Joan.  Please give me a call at..."

E-cards may be sent for most any occasion now- it is still inappropriate to send e-sympathy cards.  It is fast and easy at most e-card web sites to choose and address all the cards that you need for a month and then choose the date that they will be sent during the month so that their arrival can be timed to the occasion 

Saying thank you is always appropriate.  

E-mail thank you notes are always appropriate.  For more formal gifts and occasions, they are not, however, enough.  

Most families - most best friends - enjoy a fairly informal relationship.  If your family falls into this category, a simple e-mail after a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary or holiday is sufficient. ("We weren't home an hour before we had your gift out - trying it out.  You have always been so thoughtful - this is the proof.") Caution: a couple of sentences are all that is needed for this type of thank you, but send it separately!  Do not just include "Thanks, tons, for the great sweater" in the middle of a long newsy e-mail & expect it to register that you have written a thank you note.

At the other end of  the scale is the Formal Wedding.  If you sent out engraved invitations, then you will need to handwrite thank you notes.  Time must be scheduled for this, as delay can be insulting to the giver or cause unnecessary concern as to whether the gift has even been received or not.  In this instance, it is  certainly appropriate to send an e-mail thank you with the promise of a later - more appropriate - thank you.  Particularly with weddings, many people do save those lovely thank you notes with their copies of the wedding photos.

If you are in doubt as to the degree of formality in a relationship or occasion, you cannot go wrong by assuming the more formal response.

It is inappropriate to send e-mail thanks for funeral flowers or other expressions of sympathy.

Spam Rules:

Do not send chain letters.  

An occasional joke is fun to receive, but do not bombard people with jokes or references to websites.

Emoticons appropriate to personal e-mails:










  0:) or 0:-) = Angel
  :II or :-II = Angry
  :@ or :-@ = Angry or screaming
  >:-( = Angry, annoyed
  |-I = Asleep
  ;)=) or ;-)=)= Big grin
  :1 or :-1 = Bland face
  :o or :-o = Bored
  :c or :-c = Bummed out
  :'( or :'-)= Crying/sad
  :> or :-> = Devilish grin
  :6 or :-6 = Eating something sour
 }) or }-) = Evil
  :] or :-] = Friendly
  :( or :-( = Frowning
  :/ or :-/ = Frustrated
  8) or 8-) = Glasses
  :D or :-D = Grinning
  { } = Hug
  :*) or :-*) = Kiss
 :x or :-x = Kissing
 :))) or :-))) = Laughing or double chin
  :.) or :.-) = Laughing tears
  :$ or :-$ = Mouth wired shut
  :X or :-X = Mute
  :l or :-I = Not talking
  :Y or :-Y = Quiet aside 
  :[ or :-[ = Real downer
  :< or :-< = Sad
  :> or:-> = Sarcastic
  B) or B-) = Shades
  =:) or =:-) = Shocked
  :Z or :-Z = Sleeping
  :) or :-) = Smiling
  :O or :-O = Surprised
  :() or :-() = Talking
  :P or :-P = Tongue out
  :& or :-& = Tongue-tied
  I) or I-) = Trekkie
  :^( = Unhappy, looking away
  ;) or ;-)= Winking
  :} or :-} = Wry smile

See Also:

Baby  or Bridal Shower  Etiquette Internet Forum Etiquette
Birthday Party Etiquette Internet List / Group Etiquette
Business Etiquette Other Opinions
Cemetery Etiquette Personal Etiquette
E-mail Etiquette Website Etiquette


Wedding Etiquette
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