Professional Email Etiquette 101

Emails might seem oh-so-2000s, but in the corporate, professional realm, emails are the bread and butter of communication. Although there are apps like Slack and others trying to replace email in the workplace, Microsoft Outlook, and other email clients still remain at the top of the food chain, and probably will for a while.

So even though you might hate it, throughout your career, you’re going to have to learn how to compose and respond to emails while remaining professional. Of course, you can take your cues from your bosses and coworkers, but it’s best to be safe than sorry. I’ve compiled a list of “rules” to follow when it comes to email etiquette. I hope they can help you on your journey. Especially take heed if you are looking for work right now. How you respond to an email could make or break your chances of getting an in-person interview.

Always use correct grammar.

This is the No. 1 rule because it is so basic yet so powerful. One misspelled word and you can seem uneducated or careless to the recipient. You might be thinking, who cares if I misspell something. It may not matter for a casual email, but let’s say you are responding to an email with multiple higher-ups copied. You want to give them your best impression, even if it is virtually. Who knows? Those people could be your contacts or references for your next job. Also, most email clients have a spell check on them, so there really is no excuse.

Respond to emails within a reasonable time frame.

No one likes to feel ghosted, so it’s always good practice to respond to emails when you get the chance, especially if the sender has asked you a question. The time frame will depend on the situation and/or your job position. You may be an admin who spends most of your days at a computer. Of course, you will have time to respond to emails. But let’s say you spend a lot of time away from your desk, or your job requires hands-on work, and your computer is rarely touched. In that case, respond the next day or so. I would suggest not sitting on an email for more than a week without responding. By that time, the sender will have probably reached out to someone else for an answer or will feel annoyed or worried that you took so long to respond.

Forget the colors and crazy fonts.

It’s been seven years — going on eight — since I graduated college, and I can tell you exactly who of my previous coworkers used silly fonts and weird colors in their emails. It goes back to looking careless and unprofessional. Just use the basic fonts. I know Times New Roman and Calibri are boring, but at least you won’t look like a weirdo.

No GIFs, memes, or emojis allowed.

Unless you’re emailing a work friend, don’t even think about adding GIFs, memes, or emojis. GIFs and memes are fun but they don’t have anything to do with work.

Have an email signature.

I know when I first started out, I didn’t consider an email signature until I noticed most of my coworkers had one. It made their emails seem much more grown-up and official. It’s almost like having your own letterhead. If your workplace does not have one for all employees that you can use, develop your own. Start with your name, title, company, work address, email, and phone number. This allows people to understand exactly who you are and what you do.

Keep your inbox organized.

This is not an etiquette tip, but if your inbox has thousands of emails housed within it, it can cause problems with your email client. One way to get a handle on having too many emails is to organize them as they come. Outlook has the ability to create folders for your inbox and allows you to categorize them. You could categorize them by action like, “To Respond,” “Completed,” and “Disregard.” Emails in your Disregard folder can easily be deleted later. If you don’t like the idea of folders, you can also label emails using a color code. Whatever system you use, make sure your inbox is manageable.

Keep your personal email and work email separate.

Your workplace has the right to monitor the emails of their employees, and it won’t look good if you have personal emails in your work inbox. Generally, this concept can be applied to almost anything you use for work, i.e., a company mobile phone, or laptop. For the most part, you don’t have anything to worry about. But if a lawsuit or investigation arises for any reason at your job, you never know what they might ask for.

These are just a few email tips, but I hope they will help you in the workplace. Keep them in mind whenever you feel like you need a refresher on professionalism. Have a wonderful day!