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Since so much business is now conducted via email, understanding business email etiquette is of great value. A few guidelines to keep in mind are to know one’s audience, keep communication short and to the point, and keep business email similar to regular business mail. Within these guidelines for business email etiquette there are several exceptions.
If one is responding to a job query, or a business post, be certain to ascertain when possible whether one can send attachments. A business email in response to an ad for a job should be essentially a cover letter. Most ads will state whether to attach a resume or cut and paste the resume. Some companies will not open attachments and will delete email with attachments.
As well, when an attachment is acceptable, be certain it is not of great length. Sending anything over 150k is considered a great violation of business email etiquette in most cases. However, a project that two people are working on together may occasionally require graphics or project files that take up more space. Simply ascertain whether the business associate wishes these to be sent via email. He or she may prefer a snail mail disc copy to cut down on how long it takes an email to load.
Business email etiquette suggests using formality in addressing people. In general, address people as one would if one was conversing with the person. If one usually addresses someone as Mr. Brown, don’t begin a letter by using Mr. Brown’s first name. If one usually calls Mr. Brown by his first name, business email etiquette allows for the less formal address.
Where one is unfamiliar with the married status of a female, business email etiquette suggests the term Ms. An exception to this is email to doctors. In this case use the formal title of Dr.
Be certain to include a specific subject line regarding the contents of one’s email. This could be “Reply to Job posting #1351 on Craig’s List,” or “Let’s meet this week to discuss our options.” Make certain the subject reflects the material one intends to present.
Business email does not need creative punctuation, smiley faces or other flourishes that might occur in casual email between friends. It should also be free of chat abbreviations. Two close business associates might include them in their emails, but generally formal is better.
To cut down on space, do not quote all material sent by someone else. Cut, paste, and quote only short bits of material when relevant. If the material is not relevant, delete quoted material before replying to a message. As well, keep one’s own material short and to the point.
Business email etiquette further requires one to communicate using good grammar, well-constructed sentences and properly spelled words. If one is not strong in these areas, communications can look fairly foolish and make one seem less intelligent. Be certain to spell and grammar check material, and then read it over again, out loud, to verify it makes sense. If grammar still remains a problem, consider a course in business writing to help improve written communication.
Lastly, do not add business associates to one’s joke list. This is a clear violation of business email etiquette. If one works with someone who enjoys jokes, ask for their private email to add to one’s list. As well, never forward chain mail to a business associate. If one receives a virus warning, check Internet hoax sites prior to sending this on to business associates. Most virus warnings sent by email are hoaxes and cause unnecessary alarm, or take up space in what should be a business-oriented mailbox.
I also recommend changing the subject line, where appropriate, when there's been a series of back and forth emails. After a few emails you may have diverged from the initial subject, and a new subject is appropriate.
And, I couldn't agree more with keeping it short. I know, I personally have trouble with this because I want to make sure to get all key points in the email. But when I'm on the receiving end of a lengthy email I get frustrated. We have so much email going around these days, it's important to keep it concise!