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Email Etiquette 101: The Do's and Don’ts of Professional Emails

Email Etiquette 101: The Do's and Don’ts of Professional Emails
Credit: file404/Shutterstock

Having trouble crafting the perfect professional email? If your emails read more like a novel or a casual text message, it may be time to get your outbox in check.

From keeping correspondence brief and taking time to proofread, to avoiding buzzwords and knowing when to take the conversation from email to in-person, there are plenty of simple ways to make sure your emails are always professional and appropriate. 

Jodi R. R. Smith, president of etiquette consulting business Mannersmith, shared her advice for keeping emails proper and professional, including some major do's and don'ts and when to use the CC and BCC options.

Do: Keep Calm

"Never hit 'send' on any email while you are angry or otherwise emotional," Smith advised. Instead, Smith said you should try to calm down and then speak to the person you need to address face to face or over the phone if an in-person meeting is not possible. Doing so could help you avoid an unnecessary altercation.

Do: Proofread

Before you hit send, make sure you carefully proofread and edit your email. You should look for misspellings, homonyms, grammar and punctuation errors, Smith said. Careless email mistakes will only make you look bad to your recipients.

"Sloppy emails reflect unprofessionally upon their authors," Smith noted.

Do: Stay concise

It's always best to keep your emails short and sweet. Emails are not meant to be as brief as text messages, Smith said, but they are meant to be a form of quick communication. If your email is too wordy, try editing it down to make it more concise.

"Recipients will only read the first line or two before deciding whether to keep or delete [an email]," Smith said. "Be sure you are saying what you need to say efficiently." [Get the Feeling No One is Reading Your Emails? You May Be Right ]

Don't: Use Buzzwords

Acronyms and buzzwords can confuse recipients and make you look unprofessional. Stick to writing out full words and using layman's terms to get your point across, although exceptions can be made depending on who you're emailing. For example, Smith said that using acronyms may be acceptable in the occasional internal email, but any email you send — especially to clients — should be written in language that's easy to understand.

Don't: Put anyone down

"You never want to say anything bad about someone in an email," Smith said. "It is simply too easy for it to be forwarded and have it end up being read by someone for whom it was not intended."

This should go without saying, but it's true. Emails can be shared quickly and easily and there are consequences to disparaging others online — like losing your job.

Don't: Punctuate poorly

When you're writing a professional email, keep the exclamation marks to a minimum. One exclamation mark is too many, Smith said. Keep your punctuation professional, and unless you're best friends with the intended recipient, Smith said you should avoid using emoticons in emails, too.

The carbon copy (CC) and blind carbon copy (BCC) tools are tricky — sometimes they're useful, but if used improperly, they can be problematic. So should you CC your boss on every correspondence, and is it ever OK to use the BCC option in a professional email?

When you're using the CC feature, Smith said to keep in mind that less is more. You also need to think about what it is that you're sending, and how important it is to others.

"Truly consider who needs to be in the loop on this communication," Smith said. "Do they need this information, or is there something they can add to the conversation?"

If not, Smith said it's best to leave them off and reduce the amount of unwanted emails in their inbox. And if you're not sure, Smith said the best approach to take is to ask the person you're considering CC-ing if they'd like to be included.

Since the BCC feature allows you to add someone to an email conversation without others knowing, it can be a little harder to determine when or if it's right to use it. However, Smith said that there are times when BCC-ing others is a good idea. Some examples Smith provided include:

  • If you're planning something, but not everyone in the conversation knows one another yet, using BCC keeps everyone's emails private until they're ready to share them with the group.
  • If you have been asked to complete a task, when you include the requestor via BCC, it lets that person know that the task is in progress.
  • If you are corresponding with a client who is unsatisfied, BCC-ing your boss will ensure that he or she won't be caught by surprise, should the client call.

It's all about making sure you're mindful in your use of the CC and BCC options. Both can be wonderful tools when used properly, Smith said.