How many times have you sat in regret after hastily sending an email?

Many of us have made the grave error of sending an important email with an embarrassing grammatical typo. Or have perhaps accidentally emailed a tasteless joke to the wrong person, leaving us to stare at our screen in despair.

As emails increasingly become the choice method of communication in work and in business, so does our tendency for us to hit those keys much faster than we are processing the content we type. Yet ensuring that our emails are legible, accurate and appropriate for our reader is so important. It is estimated that the average worker sends and receives around 116 business emails a day, and this figure is set to rise to 129 per day*.

Over seven years ago as an intern in a PR agency, the most I knew about emails was that they were a tool to send and receive messages. I had little understanding of what good email etiquette was or the extent to which my emails were a reflection of me as a professional. I also hadn’t fully grasped that at any time my emails could be retrieved and read over! There was one day when my manager pulled me aside and advised me to, “take a little more care” when typing. It turned out that an important email I had sent to a client with her in copy read, ‘the press release is set to go public’, instead of ‘the press release is set to go public’!

Now with more experience as a professional and a communicator, I can say that I know better. I have come to realise that following good email etiquette is key in maintaining professional dignity. For me, the craft of writing a winning email is as important if not more, than being able to deliver a good speech or hold an interesting conversation. Unlike verbal communication, evidence of every word typed can last for years, so following good email etiquette is a must when it comes to staying ahead. Below are 5 tips for perfecting your email etiquette.

1. Accuracy – The first and most basic rule for maintaining professional dignity, and perfecting your email etiquette is to ensure your spelling and grammar is accurate. Not only is poor spelling and grammar a waste of time and productivity because your emails run the risk of being misunderstood, but badly written emails also call into question your credibility as a professional. A simple spell check or tools such as Grammarly can help in improving your accuracy.

2. Responding – In business it is best to respond to emails in the same day. If this is not possible then at least within 24 hours. In the corporate world, things move fast, and people have little time. So waiting too long to send a response is often perceived as a snub. If you are not able to adequately respond in good time, then it’s advisable to send a holding email to let the sender know that his or her message has been received and that you are working on his or her enquiry. Many organisations have these automated. You should also remember to switch on your automatic replies if you will be taking some time away from your business or work so people know not to expect an immediate response from you.

3. Subject line – Put informative and relevant headings in the subject field. Remember, every word you write is a reflection of your professionalism. So ‘Meeting: 28th February’ is more appropriate than just “meeting”. Leaving the subject field blank is definitely not advised, as it portrays a lack of care. Not only that, a good subject line will help you when retrieving old emails later on.

4. Carbon copy – This is popularly referred to as the ‘cc field’, and anybody added to this field will receive the exact copy of the email you’ve sent to your intended recipient. Make good use of the cc field. It helps when handing over projects to colleagues and business partners. They will be able to take over from you easily as they’ll have an email trail of your progress so far. I also tend to copy my manager into my emails when making awkward requests from difficult colleagues. Just her “presence” alone helps me to leverage the results I require!

5. Tone – Unlike verbal communication, the written word lacks the ability to convey your tone as the reader is free to interpret your message without the aid of your voice, your facial expressions or body language. More effort is therefore needed in not coming across as harsh or cold. To lighten the tone of your emails, you can always begin with a friendly salutation such as, ‘I hope you’re well’. Avoid at all cost impoliteness. Remember, once you hit “send”, you can’t take it back! Like any model of professional communication, you are representing your company. Don’t write anything from behind your screen that you are not prepared to say in person. One of the best pieces of advice I received is, “never write an email when you’re angry. Calm down first, then come back to it later!”

Have you had regret after hastily sending an email? Comment below with what you learned from this.

*Email Statistics Report, 2015 – 2106, Radicati Group

CONNECT WITH Madeline Wilson-Ojo


Madeline is a copywriter and a communications & book blogger. Her website, features her Communications Academy where she offers advice to professionals to help them communicate effectively in the workplace and in business. She is a Master of International Communication & Diplomacy and has vast experience in PR. Madeline is of Ghanaian descent, hails from London, and speaks French fluently.

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