10 tips: professionalism in office e-mails

This post has been a long time coming.

As you’re well aware, shortchanging the English language (yes, it includes your abuse of the apostrophe) send me in a fit.

Another one of my pet peeves is the way people use office e-mail.

I had written a post some time ago on professionalism. In re-reading it, I realized I needed to expand upon a biggie:  10 tips: professionalism in office e mailse-mail etiquette — the one thing that people, especially young employees, don’t bother paying attention to.

Remember, e-mails can easily be forwarded, so be wary of what you write.

Guess what happens when your LOLs about the boss’ purple and gold jacquard tunic worn over bright red velvet leggings find their way to her inbox?

You may be ROTF minus the L as a result.

Don’t let momentary foolishness — or oversight — get in the way of your career path.

Read on for some handy tips to extend your professionalism to your outbox.

  1. Do not use emoticons
  2. You know, those smiley faces icon smile 10 tips: professionalism in office e mails or winks icon wink 10 tips: professionalism in office e mails that you just can’t resist adding to the end of a sentence when you think you’ve written something clever? Don’t use those for business communications. They not only detract from the message, they also show the recipient you don’t know how to differentiate between personal and professional communication.

  3. Use correct spelling and proper grammar
  4. I cannot emphasize this enough. Use a dictionary or a spell checker. Most desktop e-mail clients have in-built dictionaries. Use them. But note, that the spell checker will not pick up incidental errors. Always review your e-mail after the spell checker gives you the green signal.You don’t want to be the person who wrote to your female boss:

    “Can we meet when you’re a little less busty?”

    Enough said.

  5. Wait to Fill in the “TO” e-mail address
  6. What’s the rush? Complete writing your e-mail and check it for any grammatical and/or spelling errors before you fill in the name of the addressee. This will keep you from sitting in your manager’s office for a premature evaluation.

  7. Make your e-mail reader friendly
  8. Use short paragraphs and blank lines between each paragraph. When making a point, harness the power of those numbered or bulleted lists. E-mail is meant to be a quick, concise medium. Leverage the power of the medium — this is not your love saga unfolding; it’s professional communication.

  9. Be courteous
  10. I hate when people use red text in the body of the e-mail to denote something is important. Or when they use all caps. I wonder how mad they were when typing the e-mail. If something is important and you want to call attention to it, bold it, or underline it — don’t go around e-yelling!

  11. Use a relevant subject line
  12. Include a subject that is meaningful to the recipient as well as yourself. E-mails with blank subject  lines get easily overlooked and those that say: “Happy Friday!” in the subject, but contain a message about a significant deadline is likely not going to get opened.

  13. Do not assume familiarity with the recipient unless you actually know them
  14. She may be called Pat; he may like being called Pete, but unless they sign their name such in an e-mail to you, please refer to people by their proper given name. Don’t assume that Michael the CEO will be ok with you calling him Mikey in an e-mail where the Board of Trustees are CCed.

  15. Don’t send large attachments without forewarning
  16. Do not send large attachments without first checking with the recipient. And please don’t forward images of LOL cats to your colleagues — if you’re really friends with them, you’ll know their personal e-mail address. Use that for the laughs.

  17. Do not overuse the high priority option
  18. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. Use of the high priority option denotes a special status for email — not every e-mail you send can be an emergency. Choose wisely.

  19. Acknowledge e-mails
  20. I’m one to auto-check my e-mail account every 30 seconds. I also reply to e-mails as soon as I receive them … or within the hour. It is courteous and generally expected that you will reply to official e-mails (that aren’t high priority) within 48 hours of receipt. If you are unable to send a detailed reply within the 48-hour time-frame, at least send a short acknowledgment and let the sender know by when to expect your reply.

Bonus tip!

Please, set up an auto-reply If you will be out of office for more than one day. We don’t care if you’re sipping bottomless margaritas on Cancun’s white-sand beaches — all we want to know is when you’ll be back!

A lot of first impressions are made via office e-mail … you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons.

Got more tips or anecdotes to share?

Go ahead then, type in that comment box …

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  18 comments for “10 tips: professionalism in office e-mails

  1. YogasavyNo Gravatar
    July 30, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Thank you for this. ‘Etiquettes of Emailing’ A subject to be included in the education system. Just a thought.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

    • August 4, 2010 at 11:40 am

      Thanks, Savira. I had one of my interns ask me the other day what the meaning of CC and BCC is. I was wide-eyed — for all the text-saviness these “kids” have, to not know the basics of e-mailing! Eek.

      • August 4, 2010 at 11:43 am

        That’s because email is for old people. LOL

        If it’s not social media or texting, then it’s for old fogeys.

        • August 4, 2010 at 4:52 am

          But the old fogeys are the ones signing their paychecks — at least for the next couple of years! And "we old ones" still uphold some professional standards when it comes to office communication. There’s something about being taken seriously that’s part of this whole e-mail etiquette shebang.

          • August 4, 2010 at 4:54 am

            I quite agree. Just stating what their mindset probably is.

            I wonder what the young people will be like when *they’re* old fogeys. :)

          • August 5, 2010 at 5:40 am

            Hopefully we’ll be around to see … and chuckle. :-)

  2. July 30, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Very useful information. I was planning to take a session of email etiquette’s and you add a lot of content to it. Thanks for sharing :)

    • August 4, 2010 at 4:39 am

      Thanks, Anto. Good to know this was helpful.

  3. July 30, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    also, don’t spam with chain letters and those soggy emails which u think make u cool.. but actually just make u a spammer… all newbies to the net world need to listen to this… coz they get really irritating.. hard to figure out if they have sent something important or if all is crap

    A Crooked Smile

    • August 4, 2010 at 11:39 am

      That’s an essential tip, Rishi. Thanks for adding to the list.

  4. July 31, 2010 at 7:06 am

    Good Post Mansi.

    One facet of email communication where I have always been confused about is – Copying the boss.

    What are your views on this??

    • August 4, 2010 at 11:48 am

      My opinion is: do it to cover your ass. But don’t overdo it.

      Sometimes I forward e-mails that are only for FYI purposes to my manager; but when I foresee a situation where it might be handy to “name drop” or have her jump in, I CC her.

  5. July 31, 2010 at 9:06 am

    A very interesting post, Mansi. Very relevant and useful.

    I’m sure you are helping many people in their profession with such cool posts!

    • August 4, 2010 at 11:38 am

      Many thanks for your kind words, Parth.

  6. July 31, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Great post, Mansi!!!

    I follow all of those, though, of course, we’re all human, so I make the occasional mistake. Nothing that’s embarrassing, though.

    The one I don’t follow as religiously as the others is #1, but I do make sure of the timing before I do that. I’ve never (to my knowledge, anyway) used an emoticon at an inappropriate moment.

    And I don’t use them very often. WAY less often than I do in personal emails.

    Words to live by!

    • August 4, 2010 at 11:38 am

      Thanks, Dave. Glad it proved useful. And I can use an emoticon here to append to the response :-) That’s the key, though, for young people to understand which forums allow for which online mannerisms.

  7. August 1, 2010 at 2:41 pm


    A very essential note to today’s young crowd. Another one: Some enthusiastic individuals like to be very familiar with you and resort to sending forwards which is a strict no-no. And the signing at the end should also be appropriate and not very casual.

    Joy always,

    • August 4, 2010 at 11:37 am

      Thanks, Susan — that’s a good tip. Also, I’ve seen people say “cheers” or “ciao” when signing off — the more appropriate professional way of signing off an e-mail is to say, “Sincerely,” or “Regards” or use “Best” if you think the other two are too formal.

What’s your 0.02?