Email Etiquette: Tips for Strong Online Communication

One common way people of any age exercise their writing skills is through emails, especially given the current circumstances in which so much of our day-to-day life has transitioned online. 

Whether you are a student asking a teacher for clarification on an assignment or a business executive informing your employees of a policy change, having clear, courteous communication within an email is vital. 

Here are some tips for effectively communicating via email:

  • Include a clear subject line. Example: Homework Question, Letter of Rec. Request, Meeting Time Changed, etc. 

  • Greet the person you are emailing. Starting with a simple “Hello / Dear _____” adds a professional and friendly touch. It’s the “small talk” of email. It can seem harsh or abrupt if you simply go straight to your question or message. Once an email exchange has been started, you do not have to greet the person in each new response.

  • Be direct. What is your purpose in emailing? Don’t include unnecessary words, phrases, or sentences.

  • Don’t assume the recipient knows exactly what you are talking about. Be specific. Speaking in generalizations and vague expressions can create an unproductive message. Once I received an email from a student that just said “HELP.” Needless to say, I required more information in order to help. 

  • Consider the tone carefully. Sometimes, you may want to include a sarcastic remark or a joke. Be very careful. Just like with any written text, the reader can perceive a different tone than what you intended. It is easy to misread sarcasm or humor as something insulting or harsh. 

  • Reread emails before you send them (aloud if you can). When typing, we often make silly mistakes, and autocorrect often switches out words for other similar (or completely unrelated) words. To construct a clear message, to achieve professionalism, and to avoid humiliation and misunderstandings, it is essential to review what you wrote before hitting “reply.”

  • Be selective in your use of exclamation points. If you put one after every sentence, the exclamation points lose their enthusiasm. Similarly, don’t YELL (use all caps) at your recipient.

  • Sign off the email. Don’t forget to let the recipient know who you are. Include a signature, like “Best,” “Sincerely,” “Thank you,” etc. If they need additional contact information to respond, include that too.

  • Add the email address as the last step. This tip can save you from accidentally sending a half-written email.

Applying these simple tips can increase the effectiveness of your emails. Are there any tips you’d suggest for strong email etiquette? Leave a comment below. 

Need some grammar assistance to make your emails sparkle? Check out our English Tip Sheet.

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