Business email etiquette rules: 10 best practices for professional emails

From professional greetings in email to a choosing the right closing, proper email etiquette for business can be tricky. And given the many messages we write, read and reply to every day, it can be easy to make an embarrassing mistake. But it pays to make an effort: Professional email etiquette can help you succeed in your career by showing respect and appreciation in your communications.
Professional woman sits on bench smiling and holding laptop
Email professionalism means using proper email etiquette shares 10 of the best practices for email professionalism.
These 10 email etiquette rules will help you make a positive impression on your coworkers, business contacts and customers.
  1. Write a clear, direct subject line
  2. Use a professional email address
  3. Start with an appropriate greeting
  4. Use CC and "Reply all" with caution
  5. Watch your tone and be careful with humor
  6. Send timely responses
  7. Always proofread your message before you hit send
  8. Remember that nothing is 100% confidential
  9. Be courteous with attachments
  10. Close with a professional signature

 1. Write a clear, direct subject line

The subject line of your email may determine whether the recipient thinks it is worth their time to open. Just writing “Hi” or “Question” in the subject line – or even worse, leaving it blank – does not tell them anything about the relevance or urgency of your message. It is most effective to write a short, clear phrase or sentence that describes what your email is about, for example: “Meeting time changed” or “Feedback on your proposal”. Even if your email is urgent, it is poor etiquette to use all caps in the subject line, as that can appear like overly aggressive SHOUTING – or look like a spam mail.

2. Use a professional email address

Business correspondence should be sent from a business email address. If you are sending emails for work, use your company email address at all times. (Your employer may even have a policy prohibiting sending emails related to company business from a private account.) If you are self-employed, sending out job or college applications, or networking with others in your field, you should create a professional email address. In such cases, it’s best to have an email address that consists of your name and a serious sounding domain. There is a time and place for fun domains or your college nickname – but save such addresses for writing to friends and family.

3.  Start with an appropriate greeting

Professional greetings in email include:
  • Dear Ms./Mr. <Last name>,
  • Hello <First name>,
  • Hi <First name>,
  • Dear <Name of department> Team,
The formality of the greeting you choose will depend on the recipient. When sending a job application, for example, it’s best to start with “Dear Ms. Jones” unless specifically asked to use the manager’s first name; while “Hi Mike” is fine for a coworker. If you are writing in a chain of emails, you can skip the greeting in your replies, but always include one the first time you make contact. You should never use colloquial greetings like “Hey guys,” “Howdy” or “Yo!”  in professional emails.

4. Use CC and “Reply all” with caution

Make sure that you are only sending the email to the people that you want to communicate with. Many professionals receive 100+ emails each day, so it can be annoying to be copied into an email that has nothing to do with you. Even worse: When someone in an email chain presses “Reply All” and all 200 recipients have their inboxes clogged with emails that simply read “Thanks” or “OK”. But this is harmless compared to accidentally hitting “Reply All” and venting your frustrations about the project or a co-worker. It always pays to double-check the recipients before sending.

5. Watch your tone and be careful with humor

When we talk to someone in person or in a video call, we take cues from their facial expressions and the tone of their voice in addition to the actual words. These cues fall away in written communications like emails and text messages, which is one of the reasons that the emoji was invented. However, sprinkling your work correspondence with smileys is not considered professional. It’s far better to be careful with your word choices and consider how your recipient might (mis-)interpret them. Jokes and humor can easily fall flat or be misconstrued when written in an email – especially if you work in an multicultural setting. It’s best to save them for an in-person meeting where you can read the room.

 6. Send timely responses

Although it can be hard to answer every email you receive, you should do your best to reply to anything that is sent directly to you. Professional email etiquette calls for answering a message within 24 hours, even if it’s just to acknowledge that you’ve received it and give a timeframe as to when you can send a more detailed response. Otherwise people may think you are ignoring them or you haven’t received their message, and will send a follow-up message that takes up more of your – and their – time. Even if you can’t help someone, a polite “no” is more respectful and efficient than not answering at all.

7. Always proofread your message – and add the address last

Imagine receiving a business email contining spelllling and grammer mitakes – you would probably be less like to take it seriously. So always make sure your messages are error-free. A spellcheck is a good first step, but it won’t save you from typos like “incontinence” instead of “inconvenience.” You should always re-read your email at least once to catch any mistakes, and make sure to check the subject line and recipient’s name as well (nothing makes a bad impression like misspelling a person's name). For an important email like a job application or a report to a superior, it’s even worth reading it out loud as a way to notice mistakes your eye might otherwise skim over.
Pro tip: Don’t add the recipient’s address to the “To” field until you are 100% satisfied with your message. That will keep you from accidentally hitting “Send” before you have finished writing and proofing your email.

8. Remember that nothing is 100% confidential

Always remember that a digital message can leave a trail. All it takes is one (sometimes accidental) forward or careless CC and your email may be read by people you never intended it for, so it’s always best to not to write anything you would not want everyone to see. Even if you are angry, be careful how you express yourself – the issue could be resolved quickly, but your rude email will still be making the rounds. And never, ever use abusive language or include inappropriate images in a work email, which could remain on your company’s server long after you’ve deleted it.

9. Be courteous with attachments

Remember that even if you have an email program with generous attachment size and email storage limits, the same might not be true of your recipient. Attaching a large presentation or a video, for example, might clog up your recipient’s inbox or even cause your email to bounce back to you. Instead of attaching large files, you can upload them to a cloud service and send the recipient a sharing link. Or compress the file and send it as a ZIP file. No matter how you are sending your attachment, make sure to mention it in your message so the recipient is sure to notice it. And if you plan to attach a file, make sure you actually do so before you hit send – otherwise you’ll be sending an embarrassing follow-up a few minutes later!

10. Close with a professional signature

Signing off with “Cheers, Ben” might be sufficient when writing to someone in your team, but generally you should put a little more thought into your closing. Match the tone of your sign-off to that of your initial greeting and the rest of your message. Some of the most widely used business email closings are:
  • Sincerely,
  • Kind regards,
  • Regards,
  • Best,
  • Thank you,
 followed by your first name if you have addressed the recipient by their first name, or your first and last name if you have addressed them as Mr./Ms. XYZ.
Your professional email should also include a signature that provides your recipient with some information about you. If you work for a company, your email will probably contain an automatic signature with your full name, title, the company name and your contact information, and often a logo and legal disclaimers. If you are a freelancer or have your own business, you should set up an professional email footer for yourself.
We hope our professional email etiquette rules will save you from any unintentional faux pas down the road. We look forward to your feedback below!
Images: 1&1/Shutterstock

35 people found this article helpful.

Related articles

Easter emails: Eggs-cellent ideas and subject lines

Valentine's Day email ideas: Promotional, professional & personal

Email read receipts: Should I request receipts and how do they work?