If you’ve been working in any type of office environment or have been a business owner for any number of years, it’s likely that you’ve sent thousands of work emails or business emails in your lifetime.
In fact, some say that the average worker sends around 40 emails per day! In my opinion, that’s overkill but certainly not unbelievable. In an effort to CYA (you can look up the acronym) and keep a paper trail in this sue-or-be-sued world, emails have become a necessary evil in the average work day. So we may as well get our work email etiquette right.
After sending and receiving countless emails as a consultant in professional services (where CYA is crucial to survival!), I can confidently say I’m now well versed in writing professional work emails. Now, I don’t fall for the “knowledge is power” mantra, so I’m going to share my knowledge with you today and save us all the pain of receiving emails that make us what to hit “delete” before even reading the second line!
From my experience, I’ve encountered five no no’s that people (including myself) make in writing professional emails at work and learned some effective strategies to keep your email etiquette on point:
#1: Not including a greeting
Or worse yet, including a greeting and leaving off the receiver’s name!
I’ve received business emails from people opening with a “Hi” and then they get straight to business. You know I have a name, right? It’s even in my email address if you need a clue! I’ll admit, it creates a degree of distance in my language in future emails to that person.
Try this instead:
Open the email with both a greeting and the name of the person receiving the email. Including the recipient’s name personalises the email and makes them feel like they’re being seen. They’re also more likely to give you a favourable response.
I get that there are times where email correspondence with a colleague continues to the point where it resembles a text message trail. No judgement at all. At least make the effort to include a greeting and name in the first email and the subsequent 1-2 replies. It only takes an extra 2 seconds, you can do it.
#2: Beginning the email with “Hey guys” or “Hey girls”
This may fly in a less corporate work environment but please, before you write a work email with this greeting, consider your audience.
Maybe there is one male among 10 females receiving the email. In that case, “hey girls” may not be so appropriate. Trust me, I’ve seen this done before, multiple times! Or perhaps the 50 year old mother of adult children on the other end of your email doesn’t appreciate being called a “girl” when in fact, she’s a grown woman.
Try this instead:
Use a collective gender-neutral greeting. If you’re sending the email to 3 or less people, include each of their emails, make them feel valued. If you’re sending to more than 3 people, here are some other greeting options:
- “Hi team”
- “Hi all”
- “Hi everyone”
- “Good morning/afternoon/evening”
You could even open with a creative or witty greeting to catch their attention, if you’re that way inclined.
#3: Writing “URGENT” in the subject line
There’s nothing that deters me more from opening a work email than when I see the word “urgent” in all upper case letters. Call it cheeky, but my immediate inclination is to make them sweat and keep the person waiting just a little bit longer before they receive a response from me.
Including “urgent” in the subject line sends the message that your needs take priority over that of the person on the other end of your email. That’s not likely to go over well.
Try this instead:
If the person you’re emailing is a mere few feet away, get up and walk over to speak to them in person. You can easily convey the urgency of the matter through conversation. Plus, the chances of them actioning your request are higher if you personally deliver that request.
Give them a call if walking over to their desk is not an option. Similar to speaking in person, this is likely to get you better results than an email subject line beginning with “urgent”.
If the above two approaches are not an option for you, then try marking the email as urgent using the email tools available rather than actually writing the word itself. This indicates the urgency of the matter within the email, without you having to explicitly say it.
#4: Sending a detailed email without subheadings or not enough line spacing
My body temperature is rising and an overwhelming feeling washed over me just thinking about it! Chances are, the person on the other end of your email also feels this way. If you want your business email to actually be read…
Try this instead:
Any designer would agree with me in saying that white space is your friend. So are bold (or underlined) sub-headings! Setting out an email packed with information in sections makes it easier for the reader to digest it bit by bit. Insert a line space between each key point and you’ve got yourself an email that is (almost) guaranteed to be read.
Think of your email as a pizza. Who would want to tackle an entire pizza as a single chunk of flat bread? I sure wouldn’t! But when I see that delicious, cheesy, carbohydrate-rich goodness (before my dairy & gluten free life) cut up in easy to bite slices, I’m ready to eat it all down to the very last bite.
You know what would make your email even better than sub-headings and line spacing? Shortening it. Before sending, read over the email. Or better yet, ask a colleague to proofread it. Are there any sentences which don’t add value? Maybe what is currently an entire paragraph could be said in one sentence. Trust me, the other person will thank you for it.
And, if you’re sending a company-wide email and feel a little intimidated by the task in front of you, not to worry. Send me a note so we can chat about how I can help you write that all important professional email.
#5: Treating your email correspondence like text messages
Contrary to the belief that using shortened words and slang equals “staying relevant”, work emails are not the place for them. No matter how much actual substance your email contains, using words like “ur” or “brb” can devalue your message as it comes across as unprofessional.
Try this instead:
To write professional emails properly, use complete words, words that one will find in the Oxford Dictionary. This is especially important when emailing clients! Keep the shortened words and slang to text messages with friends and instant messaging with colleagues.
There you have it. With your now heightened awareness of these 5 “no no’s” and ways to avoid them, your work emails are sure to be more tolerable in the future! If you’ve skipped the content and scrolled to the bottom of the page for a summary – hello, your summary awaits below (you can Pin it for later):
Have you found yourself doing any of these 5 things when writing emails? Maybe you think I’m being pedantic. Let me know by leaving a comment.
Don’t forget to share with your social networks too!
Oyelola is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. She works closely with entrepreneurs and businesses in financial services, consulting and education, writing quality-rich content to engage their readers and motivate action. When not writing for clients, Oyelola provides insights on writing, wealth and work on her Phrased with Purpose blog and shares her faith journey on her personal blog, He Speaks, I Write.