Email Etiquette

“As per my last email…”

"Music has seven letters, writing has twenty-six notes" ~ Joseph Joubert

The art of writing an engaging, useful, probing or otherwise informative email can almost seem trivial in the age of instant messaging. The lengthy email to a customer service email address has been replaced by chat bots, and recent circumstances that have strained our communication with others are only starting to truly remind us of the importance of long phone calls. Our private conversations with friends become shorter, more concise – why bother spending the time to concur with a point made, when a cool, simple thumbs up emoji will suffice?

The world of work however, demands a more comprehensive approach. Jobs have been offered and lost on the basis on the content, tone and timing of an email. Your writing is an extension of your outlook, and using written language to best effect is of utmost importance to developing your professional reputation. This isn’t just about what employers expect to see, but about how you want to portray yourself. Some of the points outlined below are a matter of simple etiquette, though that in itself, is by no means trivial.

What’s your point?

It's fair to assume that the composer of the first email in a chain wants something. There is an end goal and a purpose to the email. Generally speaking, an email that meets the most basic requirements of etiquette and only contains the question you want answered, or the point that needs to be made, should be successful to a degree.

When writing an email, ask yourself these three questions first:

• Who am I writing to? (Do not shorten their name, unless they have, and *spell it correctly*)

• What do I hope to achieve with this email?

• Did I remember to sign my full name?

Meeting these basic requirements will at least ensure that your email reaches the right person, meets its required outcome, and the recipient knows who to address their reply to. If you don’t know the exact name of the person you are addressing, a simple Dear Sir or Madam (formal), or Good morning/afternoon/evening (less formal) is also perfectly acceptable. It is also important to ensure that the subject line of the email concisely details the purpose of the email, with no more detail than is absolutely necessary.

Quality takes precedence over quantity in emails – though you do not want your email to sound too brief or curt, it’s important to remember that adding unnecessary detail to the body of an email, can muddy the intended message, and at worst, can result in the intended message being ignored.

It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.

The tone of an email is, admittedly, notoriously hard to gauge and so it is important to ensure that an email is both polite, but also intentionally concise and to the point. An email too polite and not particularly to the point or assertive, will often be met with indifference, but an email that is too curt and brief will often be perceived as rude.

Consider also, responding to an email that contains bad news: you have been informed that you were not offered a job that you really wanted - it seemed like an interesting use of your skills, you were qualified for it, and the pay was pretty exceptional. We’ve all been there – the initial gut response is: I would appreciate some feedback as to why I didn’t get the job that I am obviously a good fit for. Unfortunately, if you hit the send button without thinking about what impact this kind of response will have, then your reputation is at risk already. Try instead: It’s a shame to hear this is the case, but I am grateful for the time you have taken to interview me. I appreciate that you may be very busy, but would it be possible to get some feedback for the interview? Taking the time to ensure that your reply is humble, appreciative, and reasonable, may mean that they would consider you for another job at a later date. Manners cost nothing, and gain everything.

It’s important to remember that a professional email is not a conversation; an email does not shout or laugh, and it doesn’t follow the same flow or informality that a face to face conversation would have. If in doubt, stick to formal language, ensuring that you use continuous prose, correct spelling (no text speak or unnecessary abbreviations), that you start your email with an appropriate greeting, and that it is signed off with an appropriate sign off – kind regards, best wishes, yours sincerely (if formal). Unlike a quick response in a conversation, emails benefit from taking a little time to respond, to double check your tone, and to consider the effect that your email would have.

You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

This is one of my favourite idioms, as it sums up the impossible dilemma of making a mistake in a public email chain. Certain things just cannot be undone – you can’t un-bake a cake, un-scramble an egg etc. Making a mistake in an email between two people can do anything from provoking a good laugh, to creating an enemy. Doing the same in an email chain with many people copied in can do anything from provoking a lot of laughter (oops, embarrassing), to making a lot of enemies (oops, catastrophic)

The most simple and effective way to avoiding foolish mistakes in largely open email chains is to simply compose your email or response and error check it before adding in the recipients – if a mistake falls in the woods, and nobody is around to receive it, it didn’t happen. Take the time to read the email chain again, even if you are familiar with the topic, and ensure that your response is relevant and helpful.

Always bear in mind that recipients added in to email chains can see everything in the email chain previously, including anything that could be private, confidential, or otherwise not intended for the recipient you are adding in. The simple solution here is to ensure that private conversations are kept private, and your emails only contain information that is useful, relevant and professional. If you do see something that may be troublesome or unflattering in an email chain, then take it up with the sender, and perhaps check with everyone in the chain before adding another recipient. It pays to also ensure that you are not including unnecessary recipients in your replies to emails (if the email isn’t for them, then it may waste their time), and that you acknowledge anyone copied into your emails, so that they and the main recipient are aware of the relevance to them. Things to bear in mind.

People can respond both positively and negatively to every aspect of an email. This is important to remember when reviewing an email – typos do happen, but it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that an email is free of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and is lexically sound. Unlike letter writing, use of technology means that the tools are available to check grammar, and even writing tone. . Take the time to also create an email signature, even if you don’t currently have a job title, just to provide any other useful contact information….as well as take the opportunity to flex your LinkedIn.

Speaking of free services, it may be worth taking the opportunity to update that old Hotmail address; an address that may have been cool, funny, or relevant 8-10 years ago, might not seem so useful when providing it to potential employers. Though email address availability for some names may be scarce, it is worth trying with a few different free webmail providers for one where a simple, professional email address is available.

Finally, and most importantly, it is important to always remember, that the emails you send are an extension of your professional approach and personality. Even professional sounding emails can carry traces of the sender’s personality through their tone, and recruiters/managers/business owners/clients do pick up on this very quickly.

Before hitting that send button, think about how you want to be perceived and what impact you want your name to have with the recipient. It will pay off in the long run.

I would absolutely recommend looking at the following Indeed article regarding email tone - It covers much of the information above, and also includes some helpful example that show tone and etiquette in practice.

On behalf of the ARU Temps team, I wish you the very best in your professional endeavours, and sincerely hope that you find the information above helpful.

Colm Donnelly