Email Etiquette: What is it Good for?

The exclamation point and read receipt won't result in a faster response.Unlike the answer found in the song lyrics, email etiquette isn’t good for absolutely nothing. It’s good for absolutely everything. On a pragmatic level, it facilitates responses and productivity. On a personable level, it ensures understanding and respect.

Email etiquette, at its heart, is about putting the recipient first. If, however, one has freelanced or been in business for a certain period of time, email etiquette becomes a matter of survival. It becomes a way of organizing messages, tracking projects, and gaining responses one needs.

Subject Lines

Anyone who has had to search through thirty emails entitled “Update” or “Good News” knows how frustrating it is to find certain information, such as login credentials or an invoice. Specificity is a golden rule of keeping an inbox under control (It’s also a principle outlined in the first Write Right e-book.). It’s a way to manage frustration levels, too.


Easy-to-read fonts placed on plain backgrounds are best. All capital letters will be read as yelling. Bold letters can have the same effect as capital letters; also, bolding every word in the email does no good. Bold lettering is supposed to draw attention to some fact or question. Bolding everything causes the important information to be lost. Bullet points or numbers can help with organizing information and highlighting what items still need responses. Paragraph breaks serve the same purpose.

Terms of Address

An easy way to show respect is to use the correct name, the correct title, and a respectful greeting. Calling someone “Mr. So-and-So” when that person is a “Ms.” or a “Dr.” is a good way to have the entire email sloughed into the trash. Using “hey” with a new business contact also is not advised. “Hey” is for people one knows well and only for ones who don’t mind that tone.

Texting Language

Emailing from one’s phone does not excuse one from using the general rules of spelling. First, texting language suggests impatience. Second, not everyone knows all the texting shorthand. Clarity is best served by following the basic rules of spelling and punctuation.

What are your thoughts about email etiquette? Any other suggestions you would add to the list?

Photo: tmbg47 (CC BY NC SA 2.0)


  1. Seriously important.
    I live my work days on email. It is critical for the account I manage. My client is spread across Canada from coast to coast so it has become the main form of communication we use to manage work. 
    The important things for me are title, address, and content clarity. We used this tool to track contractual progress and issue resolution. For example, if my client sends a review of a set of drawings (contract documents) with numbered points (we never accept bullets) we respond in a new colour to the original comments with answers. We also have developed a nomenclature in titles for communicating issuance, responses and approvals on contracts which is an imperative for tracking. This does not waver. Ever.
    Etiquette is key. I am forever training the project management team to follow these practices; correct titles, courtesy and clarity. Nothing irks me more that a title that has no bearing on content because someone was lazy and replied using an old email. Just as important as the content is who receives the information. Extraneous copying of people for CYA purposes is annoying and counter-productive. I received upwards of 300 emails a day and an average of 30% of them I don’t need to know about or are spam. A decision to copy someone is as important to me as the content. 
    Reply all should be outlawed.
    I feel a blog post coming on.

  2. So important. I just hope everyone who ever writes an email reads this and reads it again and everyday. I have emails from people that want a reply within ten minutes! They don’t wait and they want a reply right away.
    The important thing for me is clarity nd patience.

  3. I stress over email. I want the emails I send to be friendly, concise and useful. I’ve written 300 word emails that just didn’t feel right, so I deleted the whole thing and made do with a 20 word email. In almost every case, it worked out for the best.

    • barrettrossie I stress about email, too. I tend to keep business emails short and to the point, but it depends on the person receiving the message and the complexity of the subject. My personal emails can be lengthy, but, again, the length depends on the person.
      I think if your aim is to be friendly, concise, and useful, your email etiquette is excellent. And, yes, many words sometimes can cause more harm than good. It takes work to restrain the tongue or the fingers, whichever the case may be.

  4. A very interesting and useful article with some commmon sense and practical advice on email etiquette.
    As an email expert and trainer for the past 13 years I know the impact that poor email etiquette has  – that’s why I established Emailogic.
    Read my blog for more ideas and examples of why professional email etiquette is key in business. The Blog can be found at http;//