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9 Rules of Email Etiquette You Need to Know


We're millennials. We've grown up as tech-savvy individuals, so sending emails should be a piece of cake... right? You may be surprised to find out that our generation actually isn’t the leader in email expertise. With the rise of rapid communication through texting and social media, it's super easy to not think twice about important emailing rules and nuances. Check out these nine things you may not know about email etiquette!

1. Don't assume you're on a first-name basis with the person you’re emailing

We've all been told that maintaining the highest level of formality in professional email correspondences is important. But you've most likely found that this, like most things, is easier said than done. When we're constantly texting our friends or casually chatting with people on social media, it's easy to overlook rules like avoiding the use of email correspondents' first names.

"[Students] are used to texting and posting updates on social media, where the recipient is a close friend," says Jorie Scholnik, an etiquette associate at The Protocol School of Palm Beach and an assistant professor at Santa Fe College. "Everyone is more connected with email, but boundaries still apply when communicating with a boss or professor."

Addressing strangers by their first names, though seemingly innocuous, could potentially offend them before you even have the chance to get to know them. When in doubt, always use Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr. or Professor. Only use someone's first name if you're replying to an email and the sender of the original message has already used her first name only. Getting these rules down now will help you exude professionalism when you enter the workplace.

2. Cut the informal language

Imagine what it would be like for a person of your mom or dad’s age to get an email that sounded like it was meant for someone 20 years younger. Professional organizer, project manager and computer trainer Peggy Duncan was hired by a company whose college-age interns didn't grasp the importance of email etiquette in business situations. "They didn't understand that projects were being held up because they weren't responding," Duncan says. "And when they did respond, their writing was riddled with texting lingo that the staff didn't understand, misspelled words and bad grammar."

Not only does informal language make communicating difficult, it also makes you look unprofessional. "Email etiquette needs to be learned before [students] start job hunting because they will be judged," Duncan says. "You're judged on your writing skills, and often, email is all [employers]s will have to go on."

While email is quick and conversational, people often develop first impressions based on it, so proper spelling and grammar are crucial.

3. Don't leave the “Subject” field blank

After you spend a good chunk of time writing one of those long, carefully crafted emails, it's easy to just tack on a quick something in the “Subject” field or to just leave it blank before sending it. However, Judith Kallos, producer of NetManners.com, says it's always important to fill in the “Subject” field with a brief, concise and relevant description of what you wrote in your message so that you can help those with whom you communicate organize their inboxes. The subject line is also the first thing that your recipient sees, so it's important to make a good first impression.

In your subject line, don’t just say “Hi.” Also, don’t be wordy or vague. Instead, summarize your email message in a brief and easy-to-understand heading. Include dates and deadlines if applicable.

4. Compose a new email when you need to

Another email shortcut to avoid: pulling up an old message, hitting “Reply,” and sending out a message that has nothing to do with the previous one just because the email addresses you needed were already included. It’s important to instead compose a new email that’s relevant to your topic—this conveys professionalism, and it shows you aren’t lazy.

5.  Mind your manners

We've all sent emails that requested information, asked for a favor of someone or demanded responses. But have you sent one without including a closing like "Thanks in advance!" or "I appreciate your help!"? According to Kallos, this can cause the recipient to respond slower, work less hard and take you less seriously because you come off as disrespectful and ungrateful.

"Always maintain the highest level of formality and respect until those on the other side indicate otherwise," Kallos says. "You'll be perceived more favorably and positively." So make sure to show some appreciation and say your thank yous!

6. Clean up your email chains

Have you ever received an email, forgotten what it was about and then had to scroll through rows and rows of past email conversations to jog your memory? It's like your index finger and eyes are running a marathon. These email chains occur as a result of top-posting, which happens when you simply hit the reply button, leaving the quoted original messages there, and start typing an email.

To avoid confusion and to condense the email message, Kallos suggests editing out unimportant parts of the previous email conversation, trimming and summarizing quoted material in replies, and keeping only the parts that are necessary to make your recipient understand the replies.

How much to trim, of course, depends on how much you think the reader knows about the discussion. If you're copying the reply to a third person, for example, it's a good idea to quote the original message in full. Otherwise, it's wise to delete information that isn’t necessary to the continuation of the conversation so your communication can be clear. So clean your message up, then send it!

7. Don't send attachments without permission

Email attachments are the bane of many people's existences. Particularly large attachments can take a long time to load. Often, people won't open them unless they know the senders. In fact, because attachments can often carry viruses, many companies have policies discouraging employees from opening unknown attachments. So unless the files are specifically requested, Duncan suggests you get permission before sending someone an email with more than two attachments.

8. Respond to emails in a timely manner

Whether you're messaging someone on Facebook or texting a friend, no one likes to be left hanging. It's the same with emails—it's crucial to respond to them in a timely manner. According to Jacqueline Whitmore, founding director of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, if someone emails you with a question and you don't have an immediate response, it's important to email the sender to explain why there will be a delay in your response and let her know that you'll get back to her within a certain time frame.

9. Wait a few days before sending a follow-up email

When you're on the receiving side of an email, however, it's courteous to allow a few days for the sender to respond; don't expect people to respond to your email within minutes. "While a 24-hour response time is ideal, students should allow a few days to pass before sending a follow-up email," Scholnik says. "Students are used to instant communication on social media, but bosses and professors have other obligations, like attending meetings and writing large reports."

With this in mind, it's useful to start emailing professors and supervisors earlier rather than later. "If a large deadline is approaching, start in advance to allow enough time for professors to respond to emails if any questions arise," Scholnik says.

A little time and thought go a long way. So next time you're sitting in front of your laptop, ready to write a killer email, take a few extra minutes to run through this list to make it extra awesome. If you keep these rules in mind, you'll be emailing like a pro in no time! 

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