| October 29th, 2006

* email etiquette

We all know (more or less) how to write in English as we learned English language as a mandatory subject (second language) in the primary, secondary and higher secondary education levels in Bangladesh.  I remember learning how to write formal and personal letters in English grammar classes.  After I came to US and completed my Bachelors degree, I had to take English writing class and a Speech Communication class. Regardless of what I had learned in my major/minor/elective courses, I am applying the knowledge and practice I gained from these two classes directly in my everyday life.  When preparing business letters, I am still applying my knowledge from secondary school. There are many books and training classes offered on business English writing.  There are seminars and workshops available on speech communications, business presentation as they are important parts of business world.  However, no one ever taught me how to write an effective email.  Email has taken a major place in personal and business communications in today’s life but no institutional training classes are required on effective email writing.  Most of us just picked it up along the way.

Even though, emails are much less formal than business letters, the essential elements of basic writing are the same.  However, there are some differences that are very important to know.  We do not write formal letters in email messages, emails are more casual.  On the other hand, emails are less personal than talking to someone over the phone, which puts it into some risks. We cannot convey changes in tone or use facial expressions in emails.  Nor can we get an immediate response. Therefore, it is easier to be misunderstood from emails. In response to all the growing concerns regarding emails, business communication experts recommended some dos and donts for email writing which are known as Email etiquette, or Netiquette.  Learning email etiquettes helps writing persuasive and winning emails avoiding confusions and offensiveness.  Here are some basic rules that we can follow in order to write effective email messages whether to a prospective employer, to co-workers, clients, instructors or friends.

Using an appropriate subject: Subject line should never be empty.  It is the first thing the recipient sees even before opening the email.  Leaving it blank creates a poor impression. If the email is of high importance, you may use the priority tags.  However, it is important to use these tags wisely, only for real important messages.  Abusing them often refers to sender’s desperation for getting attention.

Addressing Recipients properly:  It is important to address the recipient properly, using correct spelling.  While writing to someone for the first time, it is still appropriate to address him/her by name instead of using Sir/Madam.

Selecting an appropriate tone:  It is important to know who will receive the email.  The tone of email, and the words may vary depending on recipients.  For example, emails to a prospective employer or advisor will be more professional than emails to friends or co-workers.

Formatting the email message:  Most likely we all are familiar with general rules of formatting emails.  Still it doesn’t hurt to double check some points.  Be sure to wrap your text after about 70 characters so that it does not look disjointed.  You can select the correct setting for character length from the preference options of your email client.


Length of email:  Email is meant to be much more informal than a business letter. Therefore, emails need to be short and precise.  People receive many emails everyday, so it is important to keep it short but to the point.

Attachments:  Sending attachments is ok as long as the recipient is aware of it and is able to receive it. Make sure the file is not too large and you title the file meaningfully so that it is easy to find it after the recipient detaches and saves it.  Also, it is recommended to mention in your email what type of file it is (pdf, excel, etc.).  If the recipient needs to have a specific version of a software to be able to read the file properly, mention this in your email.  If you are sending more than one file, be sure to include a list of the files you are sending.

Avoiding flaming: Flaming is a virtual term for using inflammatory words in emails to vent out emotions.  Often times, it is hard to understand the exact tone of the sender, and the reader could read it in a different tone than anticipated.  Once you wrote something to someone, you cannot take it back. Therefore, it is better to avoid flaming in order to avoid confusion and tension. You should not reply to a flaming email right away as chances are that you will respond in similar way.  After you write an email, you can ask yourself how would you feel if you received this email.  Also, think whether you would say these words to that person verbally.  As long as you are comfortable answering these questions regarding your message, your email should be ok to send.
When not to send emails:  When it appears that a dialogue is turning into conflict, it is better to stop sending emails back and forth and meet or talk to that person to clear the issues and conflicts.  Also, it is recommended not to send emails with complaints, opinions about co-workers, disciplinary actions, etc.

Avoiding abbreviations and all caps:  Abbreviating words should be avoided by all means.  It is fine to write ˜plz”instead of please, U instead of you, etc. while writing personal emails but need to be avoided for business emails.  Also, using all caps should be avoided.  It creates a rough and rude tone.

Editing the message before sending:  Typos, missing punctuations and incorrect grammar could create negative impressions to the recipient. It is better to read the entire email prior to sending the message. Accidental mailing could be avoided by addressing the message when you are ready to send.

Signing the email: One last thing to remember is to sign the email with name (and contact info if necessary).  Also, we need to be careful about what type of email address we use to send a message.  Sending an email to a prospective employer or teacher will not be very welcoming if it is sent from superhotty@…..com or kissme@…..com.  If you do not want to use your actual name for your email address, it is better to use something neutral as bluesky@….com, or autumnbreeze@…..com., etc.

It is very important to know your organization’s regulations about ownership of emails and files.  Need to keep in mind that your emails may not be secure and could be read by management any time.  Therefore, avoid writing anything in emails that you would not want others to know.  Need to be cautious about forwarding jokes, etc. to co-workers, know your company policy first.  It is recommended not to send jokes or forwarded emails to everyone in the company.

Lastly, we need to put as much thought into writing email messages as we would while writing a formal letter.  Emails can be very effective and winning as long as we remember to follow proper etiquette.


About this blog

Adhunika blog is launched with a mission to share knowledge among women from every walk of life. Sometime it would be in the form of sharing experience to find a feasible solution of a problem; sometime it would be in the form of professional consultation, which Adhunika group will arrange for its bloggers. Nevertheless, the intent of this blog always remains the same - to help and empower women through a common web-based platform....read more



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