Making email etiquette mistakes in the workplace will not capsize your career, but learning the unspoken rules of writing professional emails will affect how competent you are in the eyes of your colleagues.
There are no standardised training courses for this, so in this video, I’m going first to share the benefits of getting great at writing an email in the workplace, then dive into my top nine tips for professional email etiquette as a technical person.
So let’s get started.
Think back to the last time you received a poorly written email, you might have had to re-read it a few times to get the main point, and the action items might have been scattered all over the place.
Worst case scenario, it led to an unnecessarily long back-and-forth email thread that could have been avoided had the initial email been appropriately planned out.
Therein lies the beauty of well-crafted emails.
Not only does it help you by coming across as more capable by showcasing strong communication skills, but it also saves the reader so much of their time by only presenting information relevant to them.
Most of us are familiar with generic subject lines. My recommendation is to take it a step further and include exactly what you need the recipient to do, and the estimated time it takes for them to do it.
For example, instead of:
“Action required – feedback for Project X”
“Five minutes of survey feedback for Project X”
This little trick probably gave you a lot more context. It’s a survey for project X. I can get it done very quickly between the two meetings I have.
Or, if it’s not appropriate to include the estimated time, be specific about the call to action. For example, instead of:
“Spending estimates for Q4”
“John to approve spending estimates for Q4”
This way, John knows what’s expected of him even before he opens the email.
Stick with one email thread for the same topic.
Think about it from the recipient’s point of view who hasn’t been included in some emails from the thread and now needs to respond – they’re missing the context from the original email thread, and multiple new emails on the same topic clog up their inboxes unnecessarily.
So, the general rule here is to stick to the original email chain for any subject so that everyone can refer to the same information.
There are many situations you must add someone into the email thread to get their input or take someone out to spare their inbox.
A professional and easy way to do this is to add a sentence at the very top of the email clearly showing whom you added in or took out. I add parentheses and italicised the font to separate it from the email body. This way, the readers know who the new recipients are immediately.
Make your request FIRST in the email – this avoids situations whereby senders include much information up front, and the reader loses interest halfway through the email.
To avoid that, always make your main point first, followed by the context.
Just compare these two emails.
“Hi Jane, my name is Jeff, and I’m in the product marketing team. We’re preparing a forecast deck for the big boss, and he’s looking for the revenue projection numbers for the private electric car that’s launching soon. Can I trouble you to pull that data for me?”
Compare that with:
“Hi Jane, may l please bother you for the electric car revenue projection?”
Then the context…
“The product marketing team is preparing a forecast deck for the big boss, and we’re hoping to use the projections to fight for more budget. It would be amazing to get numbers for 2025 to 2030 in a Google Sheets format.“
By pushing the context back, we’re giving the other person the option to read the not-so-significant part of the email.
Often when we’re emailing someone more senior than us, we feel obligated to explain why we’re emailing right at the beginning so it doesn’t seem like we’re bothering them.
This is counterproductive because if the person is very senior, they probably want to know what you’re emailing them about and how they can help deal with it and then move on with their schedules.
If you receive an email with disorganised content, summarise the sender’s main points for them in your reply. Please take a few minutes to identify and bucket common themes from their email and summarise their message in a few sentences before responding to whatever they’re emailing you about.
Not only does this help you confirm your understanding is correct, but the other party will also appreciate the extra effort you took to help them organise their thoughts.
Hyperlink whenever possible. If you’re sharing a link with someone over email, you should take the extra few seconds to hit Command-K on Mac or Control-K on Windows and hyperlink the external website or video.
Not only does this looks so much cleaner to the recipient than just pasting the prominent clunky link, but it also decreases the chances of you making a mistake by adding an extra letter or deleting one in the original URL.
Change the default setting to reply instead of reply all. The way I think about it, let’s say your response to an email in a rush, and you make a mistake, the damage is contained to that recipient because your default setting is a reply to one person instead of an answer to all.
This is a standard setting and most of the popular email clients, and you can usually find this in the general settings section.
Lets say we send an email. We go into the sent email folder to read it from the other person’s perspective, and then we realise something is wrong. Again, this is a standard setting you can play around with in all email apps.
Instead of the default five seconds undo send, for example, we continue to 30-seconds for good measure.
Checking readability is our final tip. If the email is important, have someone review it for feedback if something you’ve written isn’t clear.
Alternatively, we recommend Grammarly to automatically check the syntax and grammar of what you’ve written to ensure your message is as straightforward as possible.
Be sure to let us know if you have any tips for writing effective emails, and follow ENGSITES for future videos. We also have a resources hub on our website where you can easily find other great advice and guidance to boost your sales and increase engagement.