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Email Etiquette: How to Communicate Professionally With Bosses, Colleagues, Clients, and Employees

Jule Romans is the author of "Take Advice From Shakespeare" and other books. She has decades of experience writing on educational topics.

When communicating via email, don't just throw your professionalism out the window. Make a good impression with these 11 simple tips.

When communicating via email, don't just throw your professionalism out the window. Make a good impression with these 11 simple tips.

Following these11 simple email etiquette tips will keep your emails professional and enhance the impact of your communications with bosses, colleagues, clients, and employees. These tips are simple and easy to remember, but many people overlook them nonetheless. Use these tips and stand out from the crowd as a real professional.

1. Keep the Subject Line Clear

The subject line of your email is the first thing your reader will see. Be sure that it is carefully worded with appropriate respect for the person’s position. Keep the subject line as clear and as short as possible without sacrificing meaning. This is a very difficult thing to do well. I recommended reviewing your subject line a second time after completing your email to make any adjustments you think needed.

Above all, be polite in the subject line of your email. This is not the place to attempt to grab attention, make demands, or engage in inappropriate humor. A good rule of thumb is to never put anything in the subject line that would offend a traditional reader. It’s better to be safe than to come across as unprofessional.

2. Use Salutations

Salutations are not an opportunity to get creative. Keep them simple, predictable, and as formal as possible in the given circumstances. Use colons or commas for punctuation. Do not use exclamation marks or ellipses in the salutation of a professional email.

Formal salutations include the following terms, always followed by an honorific and last name.

  • Dear Ms. Smith:
  • Good Morning, Dr. Jones:
  • Good Afternoon, Mr. Clark:

In some situations, you may opt to simply use the person’s formal name, followed by a colon. This option runs the risk of sounding cold, but it can work well in some situations.

  • Ms. Smith:
  • Dr. Jones:
  • Mr. Clark:

Informal salutations contain a greeting and the person's first name.

  • Dear Mary:
  • Hello, John:
  • Good Morning, Jennifer:

In the same way, you may also choose to use the person’s first name, or simply the greeting. Use a colon or comma depending on what is appropriate for the situation.

  • Hello:
  • Good Morning,
  • John,
  • Mary:

3. Use Formal Salutations With Superiors

Good professional email etiquette requires that you use a salutation on every email until such time as you are having an informal exchange. Even in a reply to a reply to a reply, avoid the temptation to simply type a single word or sentence.

The exception to this rule is if your superior has dropped the salutation themselves. At that point, they may be signaling that they want simple clear information without a lot of clutter. In that case, respond appropriately, but maintain a highly respectful tone in all interactions. If your superior is still using salutations, be sure that you do the same.

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In short, follow the lead of anyone who is in a higher position than you are, and use a formal salutation when in doubt.

4. Use Informal Salutations With Colleagues

Always show your colleagues the respect of a salutation. A simple “Hi (name),” or “Good Morning:” will suffice. If it is a professional email, do not simply begin with the content even if you are writing to a friend or close coworker.

For colleagues you do not already know, it is considered more professional to use a colon after the salutation. For colleagues with whom you are already acquainted, using a comma is a way to signal a more informal or closer relationship.

Feel free to use informal salutations with close co-workers or friends, but do be sure to use them, especially if your email is business-focused.

5. Be Pleasant and Focused

Make sure your first sentence sounds positive and engaging. Read it over after your finish writing the whole email, and adjust it as necessary. Remember that words in emails do not carry tone the same way spoken language does. Keep the tone positive but professional.

Avoid unnecessary phrases like “hope you are well.” These phrases are more personal in nature and do not add to the content of your message. Instead, opt for phrases that sound more professional but also carry a positive tone.

6. Do Not Use Emojis

Tone is difficult to determine in an email. Emojis provide tone in personal and less formal contexts, but they are not appropriate for business or professional emails.

If you are concerned about how your message may be received, rewrite your words and sentences. Have a close colleague read the email before you send it. Get feedback. Take a break and come back. Do anything you need to do to make the overall tone of your email effective; just don’t use an emoji.

7. Keep Paragraphs Short

Email paragraphs should be about three sentences long. If necessary, paragraphs can be expanded to five sentences, but try not to do this very often. Email communication should be focused, clear, and not overwhelming to your reader.

Use bullet points and bold print sparingly to provide focus and make it easy for your reader to skim for your main points. If you have a lot to say, consider using an attachment.

8. Address a Single Issue

Whenever you can, keep your email communications focused on a single issue. If you have a number of different topics to address, consider creating an overarching subject and using a numbered list or bullet points. If you do this, keep the list to no more than five items.

If you must address a range of unrelated questions all at once, it may be better to set an appointment to discuss things person.

9. Use an Effective Closing

Sign your name simply and add a professional email signature that includes all necessary contact information. Do not add extra information after your professional email signature. Do not include any unnecessary or extraneous information in a professional email. This includes quotations, graphics, ASCII characters, emojis, or photographs of your family members.

10. Do Not Use a P.S.

A P.S., otherwise known as a post script, is for additional thoughts that are added after a letter has been finished and signed. The use of a P.S. originated when written communication was done on paper with limited opportunity for editing once a letter was finished. Since email allows for plenty of editing, don’t use a P.S. Go back and edit your email to add any additional information that comes to mind.

11. Know When Not to Send an Email

Your message may be better delivered in person, through a phone call, or with a longer document. It’s also possible that it might be better as a presentation, informal discussion, or chat. Think of email as a formal, medium-length communication tool. If what you have to say is very short and informal, a chat may serve your purpose better.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Jule Romans

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