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5 Tips for Maintaining Email Etiquette at Work

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Sending the perfect email, especially in the workplace, is trickier than it might seem. Most of us are used to communicating via text, Facebook message, or a 140-character Tweet, so composing a professional email is something completely new. But at some point or another, you're going to be the intern or employee who sweats over what to say and how to say it. While proper email etiquette can differ from office to office, there are a few basic rules you should always follow. We checked in with intern expert Lauren Berger, CEO and founder of InternQueen.com for everything you need to know about communicating in the workplace. Lauren has helped thousands of students rock their internships, and she shared with us some of her best tips for sounding perfectly professional in every email.

1. Be careful with CC and BCC  

CC (used to include secondary recipients) and BCC (a "blind" CC used if you don't want recipients to see who the other recipients are) are ways of keeping people in the loop, but you want to make sure the email is relevant to everyone included. “It’s really important that, when you get an assignment to ask your supervisor, who should that email go to and who should be CC’ed on it,” Lauren says. When sending out company-wide emails, it's also extremely important to send the message to yourself and CC everyone else. “I’ve definitely had interns make mistakes where they forget to blind copy people and they send one email to everybody,” Lauren says, “then you’ve given out everybody’s private email information to everyone else and that can be a really big problem.”

2. Use the right tone

While it can be challenging, choosing your tone carefully is essential when writing emails. Tone is hard to convey in an email format, so it’s best to always be professional and straightforward. Your sense of humor might be witty and sarcastic in person, but someone reading an email may not take it that way.

“One of the mistakes I’ve seen a lot of students make at their internship or at their first job is their tone comes across as slightly aggressive, abrupt or harsh,” Lauren says. “You want to read an email and make sure you don’t sound like you’re too demanding. Everything should feel soft and like it’s coming as a request.” If you’re not sure, try reading the email out loud. It’s usually easier to hear tone this way, and you’ll ensure that you're coming across just as nice as you are in person!

3. Use the proper greetings and sign-offs

Greetings and sign-offs are difficult, because they’re often the first and last thing people see in your email. So if you want to be professional, which one should you use? As far as greetings go, Lauren says a simple "Hi" followed by the person’s name and a comma is usually acceptable. “I think everyone is on a first name email basis right now,” she adds. It’s also nice to add a bit of warmth in the opening with another greeting. “I usually start mine with ‘hope you’re well!’ or something along those lines, just to personalize it a bit,” Lauren added. This extra touch lets the person know you put in some extra time in writing the email, and sets a nice tone for the rest of the message.

When signing off, Lauren suggests keeping it simple. “I typically like to use the word ‘best,’” she says. “Also, if the email is a request, you can always add a ‘thank you so much’ or ‘I really appreciate the help.’”

And speaking of first impressions, make sure you always use the appropriate subject lines—always strive to be clear and concise, so your boss and co-workers know what the email is referring to before they even open it. Avoid leaving the subject line blank (it looks totally unprofessional!), and unless it's really an emergency, don't mark emails as “Urgent”—your boss probably won't want to prioritize an email, only to open it and realize it's really not that important.

4. Find your perfect signature

Some companies have default signatures that all employees must use, but if not, you should make one on your own. The format for an email signature is pretty free form, but Lauren suggests always including your first and last name, company, email, and phone number. “If you can include your graduation date,” she adds,  “I think that’s helpful because it tells the employer right away that you’re still enrolled in school.” It’s also a good idea to include your school name, what you’re majoring in and any leadership positions you have. You can also include links to social media accounts, but proceed with caution. “You only want to show them accounts that are appropriate, and you’re managing and updating professionally,” Lauren says.

5. Proofread before you send

Before you hit that ‘send’ button, proofread, proofread and proofread some more! Even if you’re just jotting down a quick note to a coworker, typos can look careless and unprofessional. Lauren suggests downloading a cool app called Grammarly that will make your life a million times easier. “It basically acts as a plugin to your email and it’ll professionally check your emails automatically as you write them," she says. “It spell checks and even adds commas, punctuation and that sort of thing.”

When it comes to proofreading, it’s really all about taking the time and avoiding careless errors. “Go over it and check things at least two or three times before you send it out,” Lauren says. It might take a little extra time, but you’ll thank us later!

And there you have it! Emailing doesn’t have to be so scary after all. The key is to take your time and always double check everything before you send it off. If it helps, keep an email checklist (or bookmark this article!) by your desk to go over every time you send an important message. Interns commonly overlook email etiquette, so paying extra attention to the details will really make you stand out.


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