Email etiquette: the do’s and don’ts

THE email is a popular and accessible form of communication in the workplace. These days, you may not use emails to communicate as much as you once did, but you probably still use it in professional correspondence when applying for a job or when communicating with your colleagues or boss. Getting the technique of writing an email wrong can result in you coming across as unprofessional or unprepared. You would not want to be seen as incompetent or unprofessional. After all the email is a communication tool that represents your brand and how the recipient will understand what you are trying to say. It shows your ability to express yourself in words. Here are some of the dos and don’ts of email etiquette:


  • Make the subject line meaningful. A “Hi” or “Hello” won’t do. The recipient decides in which order to read your message or whether to read it based on who sent it or what it’s about. The subject line shows the importance and topic of discussion.
  • Include a heading in the subject line. With the number of emails and viruses that can land in inboxes, try to make the subject line relevant. A subject heading is essential if you want someone to read your message.
  • Personalise your message to the recipient. An email requires a personal greeting such as “Dear, Ms Jones,” or “Hi, Jack,”. Failure to include a greeting can make your message seem cold.
  • Account for tone. When you communicate in person, most of your communication is verbal. Emails have no tell-tale body language. The reader cannot see your face or hear the tone of your voice, so choose your words carefully and thoughtfully. Think about how they will come across in cyberspace.
  • Look at your email address and determine how it represents you. Names such as “looselips” don’t look professional. Students sometimes embarrass themselves by communicating with an employer using an inappropriate address.
  • Include your name and/or a signature with additional details and contact information. The recipient may want to communicate by means other than an email.


  • Forget to check for spelling and grammar. If you think this form of communication does not have to be letter perfect, think again. It represents you. Poorly written messages may indicate poor quality of work in other ways. Use proper capitalisation, punctuation, usage of words and phrases, and always check spelling.
  • Write too much. An email should be a brief communication. Keep the message concise. Use only a few brief paragraphs.
  • Forward emails without permission. Why pass on something that was addressed only to you? Often, confidential information becomes global because of someone’s lack of judgement. Unless you were asked to forward something, don’t do so without permission.
  • “Reply to all”, unless you are sending a response intended for group viewing.
  • Fill in the “To” or recipient’s line until you’ve written and edited and/or proofread your message. Is the information accurate, grammatically correct, in an appropriate tone? If you enter the “To” information first, a slip of the finger can send a message before it’s time.
  • Think that no one but the intended recipient will see your email. After a message leaves your mailbox, you have no idea where it may go. Don’t use the internet to send anything that you wouldn’t want to see in public or hear about at the office water cooler.