Business Email “Netiquette”

A combination of the words “network,” and “etiquette,” the term “netiquette” is basically what has been called good manners, applied to technology.

NetiquetteBut while most of us can state a few of the universals (such as using all capital letters can be interpreted as shouting – don’t do it), which indeed is universally the case, there are distinct differences between email in business, emailing friends and family, and email in the school situation, to be considered.

For example, some authorities recommend using emoticons (smiley faces, frowning faces, and so on) as good shortcuts – in the informal situation. Most agree they should not be used in a business email. So let’s take look at six serious tips for effective business email netiquette.

1. Many companies and organizations provide a sort of style manual with netiquette guidelines to clarify for their employees what is acceptable, and what is not, in their emails. In addition to matters of safety, basic courtesy, and privacy, these guidelines define how that company, or that organization wants to be represented to its various email audiences.

2. Do not send to a list, or “reply all” without first knowing who is on that list, and removing anyone who does not need to receive a particular email. Time after time, in every discussion of effective email, the winner of the “ineffective award” is the practice of sending everything to everyone. A major time-waster within the organization, a source of irritation, and an invitation to the potential reader to delete without reading. This result is compounded when the writer becomes known for sending, or replying to all – whether they need the information, or not.

3. Be careful of the tone you use. While you obviously are not about to correct a client, or a superior in your organization, avoid the temptation to “reply all” – especially when a co-worker makes a mistake – maybe a spelling error, using the wrong word, giving an overlong answer, or asking a “stupid question.” It’s important to maintain a teamwork mentality. Minor errors internally can often be ignored. If the error is more serious, discuss the issue privately, or with an email only to the individual involved.

4. Don’t impose on your reader’s time. Keep your messages focused, and as short as possible. Many people use mobile devices and phones for email, in most cases making a long message difficult to read. Focus will help to get your email read, make your point, or provide information as quickly, and as briefly as possible.

Keep in mind that while the common abbreviations, e.g., LOL (laugh out loud), BTW (by the way), or BRB (be right back) are used to write faster, and shorten the message in an informal email, they are neither professional nor appropriate in the business situation.

5. Avoid giving offense. Keep in mind, and be sensitive to the cultural and language differences among your readers. Use good taste certainly in the business situation, and also when writing to your other email readers. Avoid profanity, slang that could be misunderstood, and rude, hurtful, or judgmental comments. Things that may seem funny when spoken often come across the wrong way in email.

6. Be professional. Use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Spellchecker can be a good starting point, and your spelling, grammar, thesaurus, and dictionary tools are just a fingertip away. Be sure to do a final personal “eyeball check” before hitting “send.”

Additionally, use a professional email address for business correspondence. Avoid an address that could be construed as too informal, suggestive, or carry a possible negative connotation.

Please comment below, and share your favorite email pets and peeves!


Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email


Good Manners, Good E-mail

Good and Bad manners in e-mailConsider the tone of your message.  Tone is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader.  Even though email is a friendly medium, it’s tough to make humor (especially humor clothed in sarcasm) or tongue-in-cheek comments work in email, and it’s best to avoid them.  Also avoid personal comments about others, or knee-jerk emotional responses – email is no place for sarcasm, hostility, cynicism, or whining.

Remain professional at all times.  Consider waiting a bit before emailing a “sensitive” message.  Avoid “venting,” vulgarity, or certainly, any kind of profanity.  Think about your corporate culture, or prevailing attitude – which can be especially critical for emails to co-workers.
If you receive an email that you cannot answer immediately – perhaps one requesting information requiring research, or an answer that needs more time to put together, let your reader know right away that you have received his or her message, that you are, or will be working on it, and approximately when you will be able to respond.

Allow sufficient time. Your email could be received within minutes – or hours.  Even though your system may interrupt to announce a new message, it’s best to avoid time-sensitive communications (e.g., announcing a staff meeting in half an hour).  Email is designed for convenience, not necessarily for immediacy.

Remember that email is a two-way communication.  Consider what your reader has to say on an issue. Do not assume that no answer means agreement – or even understanding.

On deadline issues, ask for the follow-up, confirmation, or answers you need by a certain date.   If you get no acknowledgement, follow up until you do.  Consider international time differences, and take cultural expectations and practices into account when emailing internationally. Here’s an interesting comment we hear often: If everything you write is “important,” with a deadline attached, the reader may tend to discount the importance of anything you write.



What’s in a Name?

What's in a nameAs kids, many, if not most of us were instructed to call adults by name. Depending on when, and where you grew up, that name could have been the traditional “Mr.,” Mrs.” or “Miss.” Also on the formal side, it could have been “Dr.,” “Reverend,” or “Professor.”

Somewhat less formally, we might have been able to call a physician or dentist who was a close family friend as well, something like “Dr. Larry.” Your mother’s close friend may have been called “Auntie Susan.” She may have arrived with “Uncle Colin.” Now, as adults, we may still call our older friends and “special people” by the names we learned years ago.

And some parents and friends preferred just a first name.

Names, we learned, are important. Not only for identification, but, depending on how they’re used, to create or reinforce a “tone” – the relationship that, in writing, the writer establishes with the reader. As has been attributed to Robert C. Lee, “The sweetest sound to anyone’s ears is the sound of his own name.”

Names – the correct name, correctly spelled and appropriately used – can make a huge difference both in business and in personal life!

My toddler granddaughter and I were walking out to the garden one day, and I made the mistake of calling her by her first name. Through her tears, she reminded me that she was not the name I had called her, but that she was my “little chipmunk” – the nickname I had given her, and obviously the name she preferred, and how she saw herself.

Names have been important since ancient times, when it was believed that if you could name someone, you could control him or her. And that if you could name an issue, you could get hold of it, and control it.

“Labels” can be names as well. For example, do you label yourself as an introvert? You probably are, or will be. If you call yourself a math super star, you very possibly will do better in math than if you label yourself a math dunce.

Watch how you “name” yourself. What you tell people you do, or who you tell them you are. What you can talk yourself into being.

Names are important.

Here are five tips for “naming” in business:

1. Do not use ”he,” “his,” or “him” when you are referring to humankind in general. To avoid sexism, you can reword the sentence using a generic term for his or her position.
Campaigning eliminates a politician’s privacy.

2. You can use a plural name, and “they,” or “their.”
Politicians lose their privacy when they run for office.

3. Use optional pronouns.
A politician cannot expect privacy when he or she runs for office.

4. In a formal letter, avoid using a gender-specific salutation, such as “Dear Sir,” “Dear Madam,” or “Gentlemen” unless you know for certain the gender of your specific reader or readers. If you do not know, you can use “Dear (title),” “Dear Madam or Sir,” or “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen.” With a less-formal email, salutations are frequently not used at all.

5. Avoid making a point of the gender of a person in a formerly non-traditional role. Use “police officer,” rather than “policeman” or “police woman.” Consider using “nurse,” rather than “male nurse,” for another example.

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Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email


The Email Charter

The Case for Concise

 “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”  Thomas Jefferson

 My good friend Alan sent me a worth-serious-consideration “Email Charter” from  This charter notes that ”We’re drowning in email,” and suggests 10 ways we can reverse the Email Spiral.

Excellent stuff – with one caveat: Think about why you are writing this email. Who you are writing it to – and what is his or her tolerance (or need) – for how much information. What is it you want to accomplish with this specific email?

Remember that business writing is a tool – a way to get a job done. Think about the tone – the relationship the writer sets up with the reader – you will use to accomplish your goals for this email. Only then do you put it all together and determine the content: what, and how much you must say.

In my business writing workshops across the country, the same themes crop up time and again: Write more concisely, and send your email only to those who truly need it; give enough background to bring the reader up to speed with where you are now, so he or she does not have to dig back through all the old emails to figure out what you are talking about and can answer easily; and let the reader know what he or she is supposed to do with, or about this email.

On the other hand, not all readers want “short and sweet” – believe it or not! That is why knowing your reader is so very important. Some of the participants in my workshops want a bit of friendliness – a “Hi, Mary. Hope you had a great weekend” sort of greeting to ease into the message. Others are totally put off by this “friendly” approach, and would rather just have the facts.

So ask yourself these questions:

  1. What must this email accomplish? What specific results do I need?
  2. Who am I writing it to? What, and how much information does this reader need?
  3. What is the relationship (tone) I need to set up, or reinforce, with this reader to get the results I need?
  4. What content should I use? What do I need to tell this reader to get the results I need?

If you find these tips helpful, why not bring Gail to your workplace or meeting for an onsite workshop or for a shorter presentation, one-on-one coaching, or consulting.

© 2013 Gail Tycer •