Email Etiquette 101: 4 steps to making a good first impression

Emails have become a cornerstone of professional life. Yet, with how commonplace email has become, the lack of basic email etiquette is staggering.

While it’s easy to take a perfectly polished email for granted, email errors — even a single typo — can diminish your credibility and make a bad first (or second, or third) impression. [See also: 5 Writing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.]

If you’re writing copy for an email campaign, it may be worth hiring a professional writer to help. But in typical person-to-person communication, a few simple tricks will do. In any case, follow these simple guidelines to help you avoid common errors and keep your credibility and professionalism intact.

1. Use an appropriate salutation.

The salutation, or greeting, of a professional email should look something like this:

Dear Mr. Doe:

If the other person has set the precedent of using the greeting “Hey” or “Hi,” it’s fine to follow suit. Otherwise, “Dear” is a safe bet.

Formal titles are similarly safe bets. Unless you know the person well, “Mr.,” “Ms.,” or “Dr.” are the most polite ways to refer to a person. However, if you are unsure of the gender, it is considerably safer to use the first and last name in lieu of a title.

While commas are often used to offset the salutation, a colon is seen as more formal and often signals a high level of professionalism. Do what feels right for your industry.

2. Keep the Body Simple.

While some people think that long sentences and verbose descriptions make them look impressive, the opposite is true. Professionals prefer clear, concise communication, so get to the point.

While you should always use full sentences and proper grammar in your emails, remember to keep it short. Also, keep in mind that more and more emails are read on mobile screens, making even average-length emails look like novels.

3. Close like a professional.

Your signature is the last thing the recipient will read, so treat it like the dessert of your email — make it short and sweet. It’s best to go with something safe, like:

  • Sincerely,
  • Regards,
  • Warm regards,
  • Best,
  • Thanks,

4. Give it a final proofread.

The last and arguably most important part of a professional email is the final read-through. So many errors — some crucial, some silly, but all bad — are avoided when you read through the email at least once before hitting send.

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