Tipskey
Work Email Tips
The purpose of having email etiquette is to make communication effective.

Be polite

Address the recipient's name to prevent being seen as arrogant. This is also to ensure the recipient knows that the email is really for him/her. Some emails are sent by mistake.

Some recipients may be offended by "Hi" or "Hello" because it looks informal. The recipient may not feel familiar enough with the sender to be addressed so. It is always safe to use "Dear" as it is traditionally used for business letters.

Address the given name and family name correctly. For 'John Doe', it is inappropriate to write 'Dear Mr. John' or 'Dear Doe'. It should be 'Dear John' or "Dear Mr. Doe'. Take note that name of East Asian such as Chinese and Japanese has family name on the left.

Do not start a sentence with 'Kindly'. 'Kindly' is not the same with 'please'. 'Kindly', although by surface looks good, is however more to a command to do something or sarcastic request for help.

work email

Use 'Could you' instead of 'Can you'.

Do not use all capital letters. It will be seen as arrogant.

Do not use all small caps to avoid being perceived as not being serious in the interaction with the recipient. Work email should be formal.

Avoid using exclamation mark unless it is for something positive.

Write in a way that the email will not give unpleasant feeling to others. Sarcastic email is bad. For example to follow up something, sentences like "Do I have to remind you?" or "Have you done it yet?" should be avoided.

Try use neutral language gender. For example, use 'chairperson' instead of 'chairman'.

It is alright to write email when being angry but the email should be saved as draft first and only decide to send it or not in the next morning. On the other hand, when receiving this kind of unfriendly email, do not reply in a harsh way and quickly but wait.

Avoid negative language. 'Please attend the meeting so that we can solve the problem' is better than 'If you do not attend the meeting, we cannot solve the problem'.

Avoid setting request for email delivery receipt. This gives unpleasant feeling to most recipients. The function may not work anyway due to recipient blocking it or recipient's email tool not supporting the function. After all, emails nowadays very rarely will become missing in delivery.

If an email (especially external one) asks you for action but you feel that it is really not within your scope, do not just ignore the email. Instead reply and
a) thank the sender for the feedback.
b) say that you have conveyed the message to the related person (of course you must have done that).
c) ask the sender to liaise with the person you suggest. Give the person's scope in the matter mentioned in the sender's email.
d) in PS (post scriptum) ask the sender in future not to contact you again on the same nature of matter and write your scope. The font size of this PS may be decreased to make it meeker.

Avoid sending to multiple recipients if unnecessary. For example, if a safety officer wants to follow up with some employees who have not attended certain safety trainings, he should write to individual one-by-one instead of putting everyone in one email. This can avoid giving the feeling of "embarrassing me into compliance". The situation becomes worse if some recipients have actually attended the training.

Be specific

Write a specific subject that concerns the recipient even if it is a forwarded email. If help is needed today then "Please help today" can even be added in the subject line. By doing this, others will not think it is just another email for his/her info only and he/she opens the email a few days later. Nevertheless, it should not be too long until it is displayed as two lines in inbox view.

Avoid short forms. Not everyone understands them. Widely known acronymn means there are still some people who do not know the acronym.

Include enough information. For example when getting a recipient in Malaysia to send in something by 0900 CET, then 'by 1500 Malaysian time' should be written. Due diligence helps both the sender and the recipient.

Mention one topic per email. If there is another thing to talk about, write a new email.

Try write in point forms. Forget about what has been taught in school in writing in paragraph.

When asking a question, tell the recipient the things that you already know so that he/she will tell you only the things that you want to know. Being specific in the question will help too. An answer that is not an answer wastes time.

Not only all questions in the email should be answered, but also take one step ahead to provide answer for question that you predict / preempt to possibly come after. By doing this, the recipient does not have to waste time to write another email again. Furthermore the recipient will be impressed with your efficiency.

To request for something with email, send it to one recipient only regardless it is internal or external email. For example you want response from the supplier regarding your complaint. If you put a few recipients in the email, most likely you will not get response at all. This is because those few persons may think one of them will deal with you. If you really want to send it to a few persons, then send out a few copies with one recipient per email.

Do not just forward emails and expect other people to read the email and reply you. For example when the sales person receives an email from client, he should add constructive comment (say summarizing it a long email) before forwarding the email to other department to take action. Email can be forwarded without any comment by the superior only.

Be specific when time is mentioned. For example, "I will get back to you in one month" is still better than "I will get back to you soon". To express a due date, write like this: until and including 31 Dec 2019.

Do not use mass emails for information that is not needed by everyone. Select only applicable recipients. For example if the HR wants to say playing game during office hour is not good, send only to the persons doing so.

Avoid writing a long email. Many people, especially busy ones, dislike reading an essay.

Instead of just writing "this disagreement", write "this disagreement between A and B".

Address only one person in one email. Do not write one paragraph to one person and another paragraph for another person. The second person addressed may overlook because recipients naturally will focus on the name on top of the writing only.

Redundancy

Work email is generally used to request for or give info. For example reply with just "Thanks", "Noted" etc should not be sent.

Avoid putting disclaimer clause if it is not compulsory in the company. The author is still responsible of the content of the email anyway even if there is a disclaimer clause.

Avoid putting full name card (company name, company registration number, phone number, fax number) for internal email. It is unpractical to put company website address because the recipient should know it from your email address, unless it is a different address.

Avoid slogan or motto. It is flamboyant.

Use 'please' instead of 'I will be grateful if you' or 'you should' in front of your request. This is about politeness too as discussed above.

Avoid norminalized verbs because they usually need more words to say. Norminalized verbs are nouns that come from verbs, for example 'suggestion' is formed from 'suggest'. For example 'Please suggest how to solve it' is shorter than 'Please give suggestions on how to solve it'. Norminalized verbs are also weaker than their root verbs.

Capitalizing words excessively is redundancy too. People tend to pick up the habit of using capital letters after getting into corporate world. "The auditors meet the auditees" is better than "The Auditors meet the Auditees".

Others

When there are four emails total in a chain thread and there is still ambiguity on the topic, break the chain. Pick up the phone / stand up to resolve the issue. Avoid using email for discussion.

Avoid attaching big file to the email. For example use JPG, GIF or PNG format instead of BMP to send a picture. Nobody likes to receive big file. If there is a shared drive, put the file in it and create a link in email to the file instead. Also you can be sure that the recipient will have the latest file if you still want to update the file right after sending the link.

If the sender is a contact point of the company to an external party (e.g. a customer) and there is some information given by the sender's colleagues to be passed on to the external party, the sender should review it first to avoid sensitive information leakage. Do not just forward it because the person forwarding it will still be liable. By doing this the sender will gain overview of things that may help in the sender's work. Practice due diligence.

If you have two things to ask a recipient to reply, you may want to consider writing one thing first and wait for the reply. After getting the reply, send another. Most of us will tend to reply a smaller email more quickly. But if you have ten things to ask, do not send ten emails.

If you think that two persons may be able to help in your problem but one is more knowledgeable than the another, avoid sending one email to both because they may wait for each other to reply to you. Email the first one first, if you cannot get the person's help, then ask another.

Avoid expressions that show company weakness. Such expressions are not constructive. For example if a customer expects a written reply for a project complaint, do not write something like "After the investigation, we find that our internal processes are flawed". I do not think the customer wants to know the company's problem. Even worse you may be seen as giving excuses. Instead write action plans, for example "We will deploy a person immediately to solve your problem". In another example, if your colleague has done a mistake in the email communication and the mistake affects the customer, while you reply to the customer, do not correct the colleague in the same email. Correct him in a separate email.

Avoid expression that may be misinterpreted into infringing competition / monopoly law. Examples are "We dominate this market" or "Our customers have no choice."

Avoid using work email to forward emails unrelated to work, even news, out of the company. The consequence can be severe, especially when the material is sensitive, for instance a political article. Even if such emails are forwarded only internally, avoid sending to colleagues without their consent. What you think is important frequently turns out to be just nuisance for others.

Write 'Please see attachment' instead of 'Please find attachment'. Is the attachment hidden that the recipient needs to 'find' it?

When emailing people outside the company, preserve company's professional image. Always strive to have correct grammar, zero typo, correct capitalization etc.

Unless the job is mostly expecting emails, turn off the new mail notification (popup etc) to avoid focus stealing.

Email is not for urgent matter. It is kind of contradicting if an email is marked as "URGENT". What the sender thinks is urgent may not be the same with the recipient.

Read your email before sending to minimize chance of mistake. If mistake is detected after sending and you are using Outlook, do not use "Recall This Message" feature. This is because recall will often fail and the recipient will know that the recall has been attempted.

Try break any long sentence into short ones.

Ensure that the subject line is not blank before sending. Configure the email application to block the sending if the subject line is empty.

If the person can be seen face-to-face to communicate what you want to say, then it is better not to send email. If someone sitting near you does send you this email, do not reply but walk to his / her place to discuss about the matter.

Send email only if it is truly necessary. Recipient's sense of importance towards sender's email decreases if he or she gets many.

Do not use "cc" (courtesy copy or carbon copy) if it is not important to that person. And do not assume it is important to that person. One must have experienced getting work mails that make one wonder why one gets those. Information overloads today so do the courtesy of filtering info for others instead of sending "courtesy copy".

Not all emails need to be replied. If no further action is needed for the benefit of business, no reply is needed to save time.

Before replying an internal email, see if the internal email is discussing something that is against or that is not in internal process. If yes, the recipient has the right to ignore the email even if it is from the top.

Mindset

Email should be presentable enough as if it will be posted on public bulletin board.

Do not write the email if it is not for the benefit of the company. For example, if someone has asked your subordinate to do something without telling you, you should not email to question this. This is because it will be seen as a matter of personal ego.
Posted: 2008-07-03; updated: 2015-03-03 by Ong Seng Aun.
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