Email etiquette: getting it right

Some of my clients have asked for advice on the right way to communicate by email. May I share it with you?

These days much of our business correspondence is conducted by e-mail rather than the conventional ‘snail mail’. Unhappily, certain conventions have been lost or overlooked in the process, and can get in the way of doing business, especially when there are cultural differences involved.


• Sloppy layout
• Poor spelling / typing errors
• Incorrect grammar or punctuation
• Wrong forms of address
• Lack of formal opening and closing
• Missing reply information
• Wrong tone for the person being addressed
• One country’s conventions not acceptable in another country
• Risk of virus infection
• Divulging others’ email addresses
• Manners

Sloppy layout: Get professional help to establish templates. If possible, use a header, to make your email look like a regular letterheading. Otherwise how will it look different from the many spam messages?

Spelling/Typing: Always use the spellchecker, but also use an English dictionary (spellcheckers are American). Be especially careful to avoid writing “their” when you mean “they’re” and “your” for “you’re”.

Grammar/Punctuation: If in doubt, ask someone who knows. Phrases such as “between you and I” will diminish you in the eyes of some clients, and so will misplaced apostrophes. Never use one for a plural.  “I received your letters” is correct. “I received your letter’s” is wrong.

Language: The phrases and vocabulary you use will pigeon-hole you, perhaps at the wrong level. For example, “some cool stuff” and “Cheers” are not ideal for business letters.

Forms of address: When approaching a business contact for the first time, it is unwise to write “Hello there” or “Hi” or even “Dear John”.

Opening/Closing: Some emails leave out the salutation altogether. Others omit the name and title of the sender. If you are running back and forth with reply after reply on the same topic, and to someone you know well, it’s all right to omit the salutation.

Tone: Err on the side of caution. Don’t be familiar with a client or someone senior, and never write what you may regret the next day.

Conventions: See Opening/Closing. In some countries you are expected always to use a salutation.

Virus & Junk: In business circles, it is considered very bad manners to send a virus, so install and regularly update your virus checking software. It is also bad form to pass on chain letters, however well-meaning they may be. And never pass on email advertisements.

Divulging addresses: If you send an email to a whole group of unconnected people, use the BCC (blind carbon copy) to avoid exposing others’ email addresses without permission.

Manners: Capital Letters in emails are regarded as SHOUTING. Use *stars* for emphasis.

For a confidential course in Business Writing, email



About phillipkp

I am a wordsmith. I work as a copywriter and trainer in communication skills. For eight years I was Senior Copywriter at Reader's Digest, London, then Creative Director of PKP Communications Limited, a Direct Marketing creative agency. My business background is in speciality selling and direct marketing. In public speaking I have won more titles than anyone in Europe, including UK Champion seven times, and World No.2. Got a speech or presentation to deliver, or a mailing to send out? I can help. Let's meet for copy.
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