By: by Lisa McQuerrey; Reviewed by David Weedmark, MCSE
Business email has all but replaced hard-copy correspondence, but that doesn’t mean this quicker approach to communication should be any less professional than its traditional counterpart. Business email etiquette may actually have more requirements than snail mail, particularly when it comes to utilizing email features such as Forward, CC and BCC.
1. Use an Informative Subject Line
Selecting the right subject line not only draws attention to your email, it’s also a smart way to call attention to the subject at hand and avoid confusion. If you’re writing to schedule a conference call, “Con Call” is not a good subject line. “Conference call with Joe’s Warehouse” gives recipients more information and makes it easier to search your inbox and reference files when you need to retrieve something in the future.
2. Be Judicious in the Send To Line
Anyone who has ever been involved in a never-ending chain of an email “reply to all” realizes that not everyone needs to be copied on every email all the time. When deciding who should receive your email, ask yourself if that person really needs to be in the loop. If you’re scheduling a meeting with your CEO, by all means, copy your assistant and your boss’s assistant to help coordinate the process, but there’s no need to loop in others unless they have a vested stake in the meeting or its outcome.
3. Know Who to CC
Of course, there are times when it’s appropriate to CC or copy several other parties. This includes when the email is:
- Finding times for a group meeting
- Asking for input on an idea or project draft
- Keeping someone like a project manager in the conversational loop
Many people use the CC feature of business email to demonstrate to others that action is being taken. For example, if you contact a potential client, you might CC your boss to indicate the interaction is going well as a courtesy or FYI.
4. Use Blind Copy Primarily for Recipient Privacy
Blind copying is more a matter of common sense than an etiquette matter, but there is a time and place for its use, particularly as a privacy feature. For example, if you’re sending a large group email, say to a particular client group, using the BCC feature allows you to keep the recipient list private. Don’t misuse the feature, however, by looping in inappropriate parties to a conversation that appears to be private.
5. Be Careful With Forwards
The Forward feature of email is a convenient yet potentially dangerous business email method if used improperly. When forwarding an email, carefully read the contents of the entire message, particularly if it’s a chain, before hitting Send. In group messages, sometimes a recipient is added or dropped, especially if there is an ongoing conversation of a sensitive nature. You don’t want to inadvertently forward something that displays a conversation or material not intended for their eyes.
6. Don’t Routinely Use Reply to All
Like never-ending CCs and Forwards, the Reply to All feature can be helpful or a nuisance. Consider if you truly need to reply to everyone in a group email or if uninvolved parties can be dropped from the chain. This is especially vital when you’re dealing with email group lists.
7. Reference Attachments in Your Email
Email makes it easy to quickly share documents, presentations, slides and photos. However, when it comes to forwarding an attachment, most systems drop attachments after one or two rounds to save space on the server. If you’re sending someone an attachment, reference it in your email and double-check that it’s attached before sending.
8. Stop Saying ‘Yes’
And stop saying “no” too. Business email is a fast way to ask colleagues quick questions, and while it might be easy to respond with a quick yes or no, make sure your answer is clear and doesn’t require clarification. If someone asks two questions in one email, reply with two answers and make your message precise.
9. Observe Basic Niceties
Professionalism is still required in business emails, especially when you are emailing superiors or clients, and when handling touchy customer service issues. In particular, the first leg of an email chain should start with a salutation such as “Hello” or “Dear.” Use a signature block at the conclusion of your email that includes your title and contact information as well.
10. Don’t Abuse the High-Priority Feature
Don’t be the boy who cried wolf by marking everything “Urgent.” It’s irritating, and your colleagues and clients will grow to resent it. A change in the agenda for a meeting with the boss that starts in five minutes is urgent. Free doughnuts in the break room next Friday is not.
When it comes to business correspondence, it’s always better to err on the side of professionalism and traditional correspondence protocols than it is to come across as flip or sloppy.