Most of the world’s email traffic comes from the corporate sector. According to Radicati Group’s recent research, as of 2018, “the number of business emails sent and received per day totals 124.5 billion compared to 111.1 billion personal emails.”
How important are these emails? According to a separate report by Sanebox, 62% of emails received at professional email accounts are non-essential.
No wonder professionals often complain about the size of their inboxes—we’re all sending and receiving many emails daily, and only one in three emails received is viewed as essential for work.
📥 Are you over email? If you hit at least one of the points on our checklist, it’s time to consider an email alternative.
Are you guilty of adding to your coworkers’ email clutter by sending spam and/or non-work related emails? Are you using the wrong salutations or not including your email signature when addressing someone outside of your organization? Whatever the case, email is a major form of business communications—so if you want your professional emails to be read and regarded with credibility, be sure you are adhering to basic email etiquette.
Below are our top 11 business email etiquette tips. Which one resonates with you the most? Which email etiquette pointers should be added to the list?
1. Refrain from emotionally-charged emails
Avoid sending emails when you’re feeling any type of negative emotion, like anger, irritation, or frustration. Emotionally charged emails almost always include an exclamation point—or words, phrases, emoticons, or emojis—that might make you regret things later.
Before you send off that email rant or reply to an email from a coworker that angers you, try cooling off by taking a walk. Or, (and this works for a personal email, too) write an uncensored draft that you never actually send. Remember that all emails are forwardable, so before sending that email, ask yourself if your email has the right tone? Do you want your email to be viewed by everybody—including your supervisor and executives?
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2. Ask yourself: Does it have to be an email?
Before opening that new email window, ask yourself: Is there another form of business correspondence I can use to get this message across (or find this answer)?
Chances are, there is!
Here are a few examples of possible email alternatives:
- Need to get a simple answer from a coworker (like to a yes/no question)? Why not just head over to their desk for a face-to-face answer, make a phone call, send a text message, or use instant chat? This is often the quickest way and is guaranteed to avoid miscommunication:
- Need to have a longer chat? A phone call or video call is probably a more efficient use of time for both of you, as opposed to waiting and doing the back-and-forth email dance.
- A team or company update? Trick question! This should probably be an email message because it’s useful to have a record of this type of news. A business social media account—e.g., LinkedIn—is also a great way to get company news out.
Now, ideally, you’d have these communication channels already as options for your coworkers (and maybe clients) to use if they ever want to get in touch. If you’re like many companies out there, you might have one app for video conferencing, another for messaging, and so on.
Our tip: Make your life (and your team’s lives) easier by choosing versatile tools that can give you all these options in one app. For example, RingCentral’s desktop and mobile app does precisely that. Messaging, video conferencing, and a phone service—all in one handy place:
3. Resist the Reply All button
When someone sends a business email to multiple recipients, the assumption is that everybody on that thread is directly or peripherally involved in the particular subject matter. If you have additional data points or questions relevant to the subject matter, then the Reply All option is okay.
However, if you have a comment or question relevant only to the sender, or to a few people on the recipient list, then remove all but the relevant people from the email reply. And if you have something completely meaningless to add, such as, “LOL,” an emoji, emoticon, or “me too!”, don’t even bother sending the email!
4. Understand the To and CC fields
The recipients listed in the “To” field are the direct addressees of your email message. These are the people to whom you are writing directly. “CC,” which stands for “carbon copy,” or even “courtesy copy,” is for anyone you want to keep in the loop but are not addressing directly. Anyone in the CC field is being sent a copy of your email as an FYI.
Commonly, people CC their supervisors to let them know an email has been sent or an action has been taken or to provide a record of communications. The general rule of thumb is that recipients in the “To” field are expected to reply or follow up to the email, while those in the CC field do not.
5. Call out additions to the To or CC fields
If you’re replying to an email and you add recipients to the thread (either in the “To” or “CC” field), be sure to call this out at the beginning of your email reply, e.g., “+1 Baochi” or “adding Baochi.” This is a courteous alert to your recipient(s) that additional people have been added to the conversation.
6. Use the BCC field sparingly
“BCC” stands for “blind carbon copy.” Recipients in this field cannot see one another’s email addresses. Use it primarily for sending an email to multiple recipients who don’t know one another (note: if you are introducing recipients to one another, then use the “To” field so everybody’s email is visible). Don’t use the “BCC” field to secretly loop in additional, unknown recipients.
7. Limit back-and-forth exchanges
If you find yourself in back-and-forth email communications, make an effort to talk face-to-face instead. While email communication is a powerful tool, it can be misinterpreted and downright inefficient—especially if you’re referring to less recent correspondence. Resolve the back-and-forth email messages by picking up the phone or meeting with the recipient in person.
8. Zip up and reference those attachments
Don’t forget formatting. The typical business email account has a maximum message size that prevents recipients from downloading files that are too big. If you’re sending a ton of attachments (or a really big presentation), use a compression tool to decrease the size of the files. Oh, and remember to reference the attachment(s) in the body of your email just in case people don’t realize they have to download the file(s).
9. Emailing an article link? Summarize it
If you use email to recommend that your colleagues read an article—possibly along with related correspondences—be sure to provide some context. Before you sign-off that email make sure your subject line indicates you’re sending an article, and include the article’s title or topic matter, e.g., Article: Email Etiquette. In the body of the email, provide a short summary—from as brief as a one-sentence description to a more detailed one with bullet points.
10. Keep it brief
We’re all guilty of sending long emails. And it’s true that now and then, lengthy emails are appropriate. But for the most part, we should all keep it brief. Long emails take more time to read—and everybody is pressed for time, which is why social media posts are so short.
Most people delay reading a long email, too. It’s easier to consume smaller bits of information, especially on mobile devices. So make your emails count, and keep them brief!
However, keeping things brief in business emails doesn’t mean you should overuse abbreviations or acronyms. An abbreviation, such as pics, can come over as too informal while using plain English shows you’re considering the person on the receiving end of the email.
11. Make the email subject line count
The subject line is arguably the most prominent part of an email—it’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, determining factor in whether your email will be opened and read:
Take the time to write a meaningful subject line; one that is brief and relevant to the content of your email. Given that your email will be viewed by others, make sure you spell-check and proofread before you sign-off that email.
Then you can avoid misspellings and typos, which will make you look sloppy and vulnerable to spam filters (as will emoticons, smiley faces, exclamation points!, and salesy words like “FREE”).
Are you following these basic rules of email etiquette?
For better or worse, email communication is still one of the most common ways to get in touch with someone for work. Our inboxes are more cluttered than ever before, and miscommunication is rife. The best way to make sure you receive a speedy reply is—you guessed it—by respecting the other person’s time, and observing common courtesy rules.
Use these email etiquette rules as a daily reminder of how you can save the inbox for what matters… and make sure that when someone sees your email in their inbox, they’ll click it the first time instead of skimming over it.
Originally published Feb 02, 2021, updated Feb 20, 2023