Improving Business Email Etiquette

This is the second post in an occasional series about the importance of technical communication in the workplace.

According to The Radicati Group, Inc., based on a worldwide study in 2015, the number of business emails sent and received per user, per day totals 122, with a circulation of 112.5 billion worldwide. These statistics should reflect how much businesses rely on email communication skills on a daily basis. Because of the massive influx of emails, any employee at your workplace could most likely list three pet peeves of theirs regarding email communication. The following are the answers I got from a few FRG employees:

  • Emails that have a missing subject line or have no content
  • Emails that do not have a clear response to your question
  • Emails that do not get to the point quickly or are superfluous

How do we ensure that we are not the employees that are sending the above types of emails? How do we ensure that we are taking advantage of this easy communication tool to be efficient, productive, and constructive in the workplace? How do we ensure that we are communicating in a professional manner?

Follow these rules (in no particular order) on email etiquette to make sure you are sending correct and understandable information.

  1. Keep it simple. Use succinct sentences that get promptly to the point.
  2. Be professional. If you are not positive the receiver of the email knows who you are, briefly introduce yourself (e.g., state your name, job title, and purpose of email).
  3. Make it standalone. Suspect that the person did not read previous emails in the thread. Refresh their memory first on what the discussion was and then continue.
  4. Read the entire email before sending. Ensure that there are no typos and that the content makes sense.
  5. Make no assumptions. Do not assume that others understand what you are saying. Be clear in your statements/questions.
  6. Be consistent. Include a clear and intuitive subject and body content. Ensure that terms are being referenced the same in email threads to avoid confusion (e.g., Financial Risk Group vs. FRG).
  7. Always consider lists. Use bulleted lists to directly group lists, steps, questions, etc. Use numerical or alphabetical lists for items that need to be in a specific order and bullets for items that do not.
  8. Use parallel structure. Construct sentences so that readers can understand difficult concepts more quickly.
    • Parallel structure is especially important when writing lists. Begin each statement with the same part of speech. For example, if explaining steps in a process, use verbs such as type, click, or close to begin each statement.
    • Parallel structure can be used in comparisons. Repeat the same phrases in order to be clear. For example, the new user interface is more user-friendly than the old user interface.
    • Parallel structure can help define the format and/or layout. Repeat the same format and/or layout to ensure consistent organization. For example, if you include a bolded header for one topic, use a bolded header for each topic.

The above rules can be applied to emails sent to any reader, whether it be a co-worker, boss, client, future employer, etc. It is ultimately important to send clear, understandable statements and questions to ensure you receive a productive and expected response.

Samantha Zerger, business analytics consultant with the Financial Risk Group, is skilled in technical writing. Since graduating from the North Carolina State University’s Financial Mathematics Master’s program in 2017 and joining FRG, she has taken on leadership roles in developing project documentation as well as improving internal documentation processes.