Language, as well as tone of voice, is an important element in communication.
Generally, your language should depend on the people you’re communicating with. You can use slang and very casual language if you’re talking to people close to you, like your friends. If you talk to your grandparents, although your language will still generally be casual, you might avoid a lot of that slang only your generation can understand.
When communicating work-related topics—whether with your colleague of the same rank, with your boss, or with a representative of another company–you want to keep things professional. That applies to oral and written communication, such as emails. Avoid using jargon, slang, excessive emojis, and overly informal language. As I mentioned earlier, your fellow professionals will judge your competence and professionalism based on how you communicate with them.
If “professional” sounds vague, you might want to check out your company’s language style guide and stick to it. A style guide is a company’s central internal and external communications document. It establishes grammar, language, and formatting rules employees must follow when sending work-related messages.
Slack’s style guide is clear on how employees should communicate.
Use of Professional Language
Emails and work are synonymous. Need to send in a job application? You do it over emails. Check-in with your boss. Emails. Should I clarify a project or loop in the rest of the team? Emails to the rescue!
Different research studies reveal people send over 300 billion messages daily in 2023. In 2015, Adobe estimated the average worker spent 6.3 hours each weekday purring through their emails. However, experts believe they spend more hours now, with the average worker receiving 121 business emails daily.
If workers are receiving that many business emails, that means professionals are also writing many emails. In other words, writing business emails is also a huge part of any individual’s work life.
But you can’t just write down anything that comes to mind and send it to your colleague or another company’s representative. There’s what you call email etiquette. If you want to preserve your professional relationships, follow it to the letter.
What is Email Etiquette?
Email etiquette is a set of guiding principles we follow when interacting with others using email personally or professionally.
It encompasses tone, appropriate language, conventions, grammar, and manners. While, these factors may vary based on your relationship with the recipient, there’s a standard body of rules to follow when sending business emails.
Email etiquette is important because it:
- Helps establish your credibility and build trust
- Gives people the opportunity to understand your context
- Creates a base on which a relationship can be built
9 Essential Email Etiquette Rules for Effective Business Communication
We’ve learned how companies and employees must practice good email etiquette. The email guidelines should apply to both internal and external business communications. Here are the best practices for professional emailing etiquette:
Use your legal name in the business email address. It could be a combination of your first and last name. The key is to create an email address people can easily distinguish is yours. See the table below
Notice that the “Don’t” emails in the table above are quite difficult to read. The “Do” emails, meanwhile, are more straightforward and, therefore, seem more legitimate. Although your email address will ultimately depend on you, make sure you create one considering your email recipient. Don’t create an email address that’s difficult to spell and type.
Additionally, avoid using slang or naming conventions that might portray you as unprofessional. For instance, firstname.lastname@example.org may sound funny to your friends. But if you use that email address to communicate with professionals who don’t know you, they might think you’re just an arrogant person.
2. Write a Clear Subject Line
Your business emails will go unopened if they lack a strong subject line. A strong subject line is concise, descriptive, and action-oriented. That said, here are good subject lines that might inspire you:
- “New project proposal (second draft); available for review.”
- “Follow up on our call.”
- “Quick question regarding...”
- “Rescheduled meeting for 25 Sept 2025” will result in more email opens since it's issue-specific.
But, even experienced professionals may struggle to write the best subject lines.
In case you're stuck between too few and too many words, try seven. Why? According to Marketo, subjects with seven words or fewer get the best engagement rates.
For example, consider saying "Checking in about [specific concern]" instead of "Checking in."
Additionally, write credible subject lines addressing the email recipient's concerns. Here’s a great example:
As a final tip, if you're not sending a follow-up email or reply, do not use the "Re:" indicator in your subject line. It’s misleading and can cause distrust.
3. Start With a Proper Greeting
Greeting conventions are tricky. What may come off as business-neutral to a professional in a particular region might be displeasing or downright rude to another somewhere else.
For instance, “Hey [Name]” is considered somewhat rude or unwelcoming for business-casual email communication in many African countries. Doesn’t matter if they’re a co-worker or you’re replying to an email thread where you’ve established some familiarity. “Hi [Name]” is considered more neutral and is used by younger professionals.
In the West or Europe, that’s not the case, as people are receptive to “Hey” and use them in business-casual email communications.
Moral of the story? Research cultural context and what’s considered a “proper greeting” in that region before emailing a new business contact.
Or, you may use “Hi,” “Dear [Name],” or “Hello” to be on the safe side. Alternatively, start with the recipient’s first name. But do this sparingly since for some, it may come off as rude and brash. Here’s how first-name salutations look:
So, if you opt for this strategy, adopt a warmer approach when you get to the email body.
Saying “Greetings” is another formal email salutation we rarely see but gets used in some instances anyway. Like first-name salutations, this can come off as stiff and standoffish but sets the tone for a straight-to-the-chase professional vibe.
4. Be Concise and Focused in the Email Body
Professional emails only need to convey a specific message. To grab your recipient's attention when they open the email, state the most important information first. Some business contexts might permit an exchange of pleasantries like: “Trust you’re great!” or “I hope the week is wrapping up nicely” but don’t overdo it. One sentence (one paragraph at the most) is enough.
Then, go straight to your purpose for emailing. Check out this excellent example:
After the brief exchange of pleasantries, the sender immediately discusses the purpose of the email in the second paragraph: to set some ground rules for the project members’ communication.
As with the example, use bullets or numbered lists to keep your information structured and focused. This makes it easy for the reader to skim the email and concentrate on the most significant bits.
Even if there isn’t a written rule, avoiding using humor (corporate jokes inclusive) in your business emails is always a safe bet. They’re better said in person, where body language and facial expressions help convey the proper message and tone.
Nevertheless, what happens if you’re a sole proprietor without a language style guide? Create email templates based on business emails that embody good business communication practices. Then, use these templates wherever they apply. That way, whether it’s an eCommerce or SaaS content production company you’re emailing, you can be assured you’re constantly responding in a professional tone.
In your email, you should avoid using negative language that highlights obstacles or limitations whenever possible. This doesn’t apply, though, if the obstacles will impact the email recipient.
Be upfront about these challenges in these cases. Just use positive language to specify what you’re doing to overcome these. Also, apologize even if the obstacles result from factors that aren’t within your control. This can help appease your email recipient a bit.
Check out how this email sender explains certain limitations that can negatively impact the recipient and how they immediately assure that they are “working hard to resolve the issue.” The apology in the third paragraph is an excellent addition, too.
As a rule of thumb, if your email sounds harsh or standoffish, it probably is so tweak your language before hitting Send.
One last email tip is to avoid using gender-specific pronouns. Because that's a sensitive issue, find a workaround until you know your recipient's identity.
6. Be Mindful of the Recipient's Time
We discussed the importance of keeping your emails focused and concise. This is one of the ways you can show you’re mindful of your recipient’s time.
But there are other ways you can show you’re considerate. For instance, if you’re just replying to a fellow professional’s message, use the Reply option instead of composing an entirely new email. This way, they won’t have to waste time manually searching their inbox for that email they sent you to understand what you’re saying.
You should also respond to your inbox timely. Don’t make your colleague or that business rep wait too long for your response.
No internal business email should go unanswered for more than 24 hours. If you don’t know how to respond specifically to their email (for instance, maybe you need to consult another department before giving a final answer), just say so in your response. It’s also common courtesy to specify when you’ll get back to them with your final reply.
If the email is urgent for external business contacts, respond within 24 hours. If it isn’t, you can reply within five business days.
7. Proofread Before Sending
Grammar and spelling mistakes in work-related correspondence reflect more on your ethics than you realize. The occasional mistakes are excusable, but too many and readers will associate them with who you are: irresponsible and too carefree.
As a professional, you should know to use the right words in the proper context. Know the differences between terms that sound the same but mean different things. Here are some examples:
Make it a habit to use tools such as Writer or Grammarly to catch errors you might have missed after reading the email.
As part of your proofreading, you’ll want to check, too, whether your email is legible in the first place. Use easy-to-read standard fonts throughout the email body, such as Arial, Calibri, Merriweather, or Times New Roman.
8. Use a Signature
Besides, with a professional signature, you make it easier for recipients to contact you in other ways. Email signatures usually come with other contact information, like your phone number.
Creating email signatures on Gmail, Outlook, or other email service providers is easy. Go to Settings > Signatures and fiddle until you have all your information.
As far as proper business email etiquette goes, your email signature should at least have the following:
- First and Last Name
- Affiliation information, such as company name, title, and/or department
- Secondary contact information, like your personal website or phone number.
You may also include a headshot image or your company’s logo icon. Also, if you’re a thought leader, including social links to platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram can help. This strategy can help get you more followers and, ultimately, more social media engagement. Go through these email signature generators for multiple options for generating a professional email signature.
9. Be Cautious with Attachments
Another business email etiquette rule is to avoid attaching bulky files to emails. Your recipient will only have a hard time downloading the attachment.
There are several workarounds for this. Instead of attaching several videos, you can upload them to a cloud service like Dropbox or your company’s Google Drive and insert the link (with viewing access) somewhere in the email.
Don’t worry because fast internet makes uploading heavy files to the cloud easy. Fast web hosts usually go the extra mile by offering features such as dedicated IP addresses, SSD storage, and CDNs that could improve email deliverability.
You can also use a QR code instead of using attachments. QR codes allow you to transfer information quickly. Your recipient will appreciate them, too, since they can access the information even when on the go. They can scan the codes with their own mobile devices, after all.
But if you need to send an email attachment, here’s a tip: ensure it’s virus-free. Scan the document first before you attach it to the email. You don’t want to be the reason your email recipient gets a virus on their device.
Finally, use an email finder to verify your recipient’s mailing address before hitting Send. You want to make sure your message reaches your intended recipient in the first place.
Final Words on Business Email Etiquette
Professional business email etiquette guides work-related communications and promotes respect. If you forget some of the above guidelines, these three P’s — politeness, precision, and professionalism — will get you through any email misunderstanding.
Following these business email etiquette tips can help maintain a professional image, communicate clearly, and avoid any issues. Remember, email is a powerful tool that can be used to build relationships, get ahead in your career, and achieve your goals. Use it wisely!