Responding to emails is a necessity in the business world, but taking the time to type out a thoughtful, polite reply to each one can eat up a good chunk of your day. Google has added a Smart Reply feature to Inbox by Gmail and Google Allo that allows emailers to choose quick, auto-generated responses suggested for them based on the email text.
While there is a time and a place for this, quick, casual responses to professional emails could do more harm than good, according to Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. Automated responses can reduce connections between senders and receivers, and creating more generic rather than customized emails may lead to miscommunication.
Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of etiquette consulting business Mannersmith, and Schweitzer shared their advice for keeping emails proper and professional, including some major dos and don’ts, and when to use the CC and BCC options.
Do: Use proper salutation
Opening an email with “hi” or “hey” might be OK for colleagues you’re friendly with, but for new contacts, Schweitzer advised beginning your email with a proper, respectful salutation, such as “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good evening” or “hello.”
“‘Good day’ or ‘greetings’ are other phrases used frequently in the international arena,” she added.
Before you send, make sure to 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.
“These errors look unprofessional and reduce the likelihood that the email will be taken seriously,” added Schweitzer. “Email software comes with many professional tools such as Spell Check. Use them.”
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 sufficiently.”
Do: Keep Calm
Never send any email while you are angry or otherwise emotional, Smith advised. Instead, 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, Smith said.
Don’t: Use buzzwords
Acronyms and buzzwords can confuse recipients and make you look unprofessional, said Smith. Stick to writing out full words and use layman’s terms to get your point across, although exceptions can be made depending on whom you’re emailing. For example, 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, Smith said.
Don’t: Put anyone down
Emails can be shared quickly and easily, and there are consequences to disparaging others in lasting, digital communications. Avoid embarrassing yourself – or worse, losing your job – by making sure you don’t badmouth any colleagues or business partners.
“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.”
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 friendly with the intended recipient, Smith said you should avoid using emoticons in emails, too.
“Those little blinking icons are for text messages,” said Schweitzer. “They are inappropriate and unprofessional in a business email. Emoticons may divert email to a spam filter or junk mailbox.”
Don’t: Forget the conversation closer
End your email with a closing such as “best,” “best regards,” “sincerely,” “thank you,” or another appropriate phrase.
“By letting the recipient know that a response isn’t needed, the email cycle doesn’t continue on in perpetuity,” said Schweitzer.
Other closer options include “no reply necessary,” “thank you again,” “see you at the meeting” and “please let me know if I may be of further assistance.”
How to CC and BCC properly
The carbon copy (CC) and blind carbon copy (BCC) tools are tricky. Sometimes they’re useful, but if used improperly, they can be problematic.
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?”
Schweitzer added that sometimes people are so proud of their work product that they add a dozen recipients in the CC line and then bask in the limelight of afterglow when everyone comments about how much or how well they are doing. This may be interpreted as slick boasting, a cry for attention or self-centeredness, so keep CCs to only those with a need to know.
The BCC feature allows you to add someone to an email conversation without others knowing, so it can be a little harder to determine when or if it’s right to use it. Smith said that there are times when BCC-ing others is a good idea.
- 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 requester 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.
Smith said it’s best to leave those who don’t fall into the “need to know” category off an email and reduce the clutter in their inbox. And if you’re not sure, Smith said the best approach to take is to ask the person you want to CC or BCC if they’d like to be included.
Additional reporting by Brittney Morgan. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.