14 Guidelines for Professional Email Etiquette at Work

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 22 September 2022

Published 29 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Emailing in the workplace is a regular form of communication for many people. Regardless of the stage you're at in your career, using the right email etiquette helps you communicate clearly and shows that you're professional. If you send and receive a large number of emails each day, it's more likely that an error can arise, but a clear understanding of etiquette can help to prevent this. In this article, we present our guidelines for professional email etiquette.

What is email etiquette?

Email etiquette refers to how you conduct yourself when sending or responding to emails. Expectations vary depending on the organisation and your audience, but there are some general email rules that apply when you're at work. As with all professional communication, the way you conduct yourself via email at work is different from when you're writing to friends and family.

Related: How To Write A Formal Email (With Template And Example)

Why does email etiquette matter?

Email manners are important because a small mistake can have serious professional consequences or cause confusion. Therefore, it's wise to have a thorough understanding of the appropriate etiquette when you're sending emails. Some companies have best practice rules for email communication. The purpose of this is to promote efficiency and clarity and to give a professional image to individual employees and the business as a whole.

The way you communicate also reflects the type of employee you are, including your work ethic and attention to detail. Email correspondence might be the first impression some people get of you. For example, if you work at a very large organisation or use email to contact external partners and clients. This means that the right etiquette is essential for presenting yourself well.

Related: How To Write A Professional Email: A Complete Guide With Examples

Etiquette guidelines for writing emails

We've compiled a list of 14 rules to follow for good etiquette when writing emails. Apply these rules regardless of whether you're communicating with colleagues, clients or partner organisations. Remember your organisation's company culture and communication best practice guidelines as well so that your emails are professional but also appropriate for the environment you work in. Follow this list of 14 rules below:

1. Use a professional email address

If you're an employee at a company, you likely have a company email address. Use this rather than your personal email address for all work-related correspondence. If you do use a personal email address, for example, if you're a freelancer, choose the address carefully. Your name or a slight variation on this is a sensible choice so that you still present yourself in a professional way. Save humorous email addresses for personal correspondence.

Related: How To Be Professional at Work

2. Always include a clear and concise subject line

A clear subject line means your recipient instantly knows what your email is about and allows them to prioritise it accordingly. Subject lines that are vague or very long can be confusing and could mean that the recipient misses important correspondence. Good examples of an email subject line are 'Rescheduling today's meeting' or 'Question about your presentation'.

Related: How to write an introductory email

3. Use standard fonts and formatting

Use standard fonts, formats and colours in every email. This means that it looks professional when the recipient opens it and is easy to read. As a general rule, black is the most appropriate colour to use for text unless there's a good reason for using another colour. Be aware that pasting text into your email can cause formatting issues. Make sure you clear formatting or only paste unformatted text to ensure your email formatting is consistent. Similarly, only use emojis if your recipient has done so in their emails to you and you're certain that it's acceptable.

4. Use punctuation appropriately

Overusing punctuation like exclamation marks could indicate overexcitement, so use it in an appropriate way. One exclamation mark at the end of a sentence is sufficient, but in general, keep your emails somewhat formal. Similarly, only use sentence case when sending emails unless there's a good reason for doing otherwise. Typing in all caps can seem aggressive and imply that you're shouting.

Related: Written Communication Skills: Definition and Examples

5. Use appropriate greetings and sign-offs

Use professional greetings and sign-offs in all of your emails. Different organisations have different ideas about what's appropriate. Using 'Hi' or 'Hello' is acceptable in most workplaces unless the email is very formal. If you've started a new job and you're unsure about the right etiquette, read your emails carefully to see how others address you and other colleagues. This is a good guide to what to do.

Related: When To Use 'Best Regards' In An Email (With Examples and Alternatives)

6. Consider your audience

Considering your audience is important, especially if you have international colleagues, clients or partners. Different cultures communicate in different ways. By being aware of this, you can tailor your own correspondence accordingly. Professional contacts from some cultures, such as China or Japan, normally expect to get to know you before conducting business, so their emails may be more personal than you expect. Other cultures are more direct and expect to deal with business immediately. If you're not sure, follow the example of your recipient and mirror their way of communicating.

7. Be cautious about tone and humour

Some recipients can misunderstand tone and humour when it's written in an email. It's essential to make sure your emails are always polite and professional in tone. Similarly, humour and jokes might be misunderstood in emails unless you know the recipient very well. For professional emails, maintain a serious tone unless you're certain the recipient can understand and appreciate the joke.

Related: Examples of tone in emails: definition, importance and tips

8. Include a signature

Adding an email signature is a great way of making an impression and looking professional. It also gives the recipient some information about you, including where you work and your contact information. Make sure that your email signature includes all the essential information and also fits into your professional image. Most companies have an email signature template to use. It's recommended to use standard fonts and colours if you're designing your own.

Related: How To Make a Signature in 6 Steps (With Extra Tips)

9. Think before using 'reply all' or forwarding

Make sure that using 'reply all' or forwarding an email is the right thing to do. It can be distracting to receive emails that are intended for someone else because other people are using the reply all button. If you're doing this regularly, it could affect your reputation as a professional, so always think about whether it's necessary.

This also applies to forwarding emails. Some emails are only intended for you, so think about whether forwarding them on is appropriate. If you're forwarding a lengthy chain of emails, provide a summary in the email you send so that your recipient can quickly understand what you need from them.

Related: The difference between BCC vs. CC and when to use them

10. Enter the recipient's email address last

Enter the recipient's email address after you've finished writing and checking the email. This gives you the certainty that everything in the email is correct before you send it. Doing this also stops you from sending it before you've finished writing it. Some email programs have a delay before actually sending an email, so you can undo it, but it's better to get it right the first time.

11. Proofread your emails

Always proofread your emails to make sure your spelling, grammar and formatting are correct before you send them. Small errors can have an impact on the impression you make, so getting this right is really important. When checking the content of your email, make sure you've selected the correct recipient and check any attachments too. If you're sending attachments, check that you've definitely attached them before you send the email and make sure that you've attached the correct files as well.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Writing Skills Are Essential For Every Job

12. Reply to your emails

It shows good manners to always reply to your emails. Even if you receive an email sent to you in error, it's good etiquette to respond anyway and tell the sender that they've contacted you by mistake. This means they can quickly contact the correct person instead. Aim to respond within 24 hours of receiving an email. If sending a detailed reply requires more time, send a response within 24 hours to tell the sender that you've received their email and intend to send them a more detailed response later.

Related: How to write a gentle reminder email

13. Remember that others may see your email

Emails always leave a trail. There's also always the possibility that your recipient forwards your email or shows it to other people. Keep this in mind when you're writing emails and stick to positive, polite and professional language and comments. A good tip is to assume that people other than the recipient can see your email, so write accordingly.

14. Use your 'out of office'

When you're away from work, make sure you use the 'out of office' function. Always set up an informative 'out of office' reply that explains when you're back in the office and able to respond to emails. Also, include information about who the sender can contact whilst you're gone if their query is urgent.

Related: How to Craft an Effective Out of Office Message

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