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A Brief Guide To Email Etiquette

Email is a fact of life nowadays. Even if you don’t have a professional email address, you at least need a personal one to shop online for receipts, order confirmations, and other outreach between you and companies you patronize. As normalized as email has become, how to write an email is a subject that could use some clarity With that in mind, we present this brief guide to email etiquette.

Remember: communication is one of the ABC’s of image. The way you present yourself in an email can and will affect how you’re perceived in real life.

Proper Spacing & Punctuation Are Crucial

young asian man working on laptop wearing glassesFor most of us, email is a visual thing. How it looks is just as important as what you write, and proper spacing and punctuation are key. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can ignore grammar and structure rules just because it’s electronic communication.

A visually well-structured email says, “I’m a person who has his act together and pays attention to detail. You can trust me with your business dealings.” An email without proper spacing, lackluster grammar and punctuation, or misspellings, on the other hand, gives off a feeling of scatterbrained-ness that can muddy your message. A well structured email looks like this:

“Hello _____,

I hope you’re doing well. When you’re able, please send me the tracking information from ABC Widget Company – I need to confirm delivery ASAP.



Exclamation Points & Dashes

man using wireless earbuds with phoneExclamation points are a tricky subject when it comes to email etiquette. When you use them appropriately (that is, sparingly, and only in front of the right audience), they can indicate friendliness and/or excitement. If you overuse exclamation points, you run the risk of looking unserious or unprofessional. If the person with whom you’re emailing has used exclamation points, feel free to sprinkle some in if you see fit. If not, tread lightly with them. Either way, this is a version of mirroring, a powerful image management tool.

Dashes have become commonplace in electronic communication, and email is no exception. They have a similar effect as parentheses, but look cleaner. Lets use part of the above example to demonstrate how they work:

  • “When you’re able, please send me the tracking information from ABC Widget Company – I need to confirm delivery ASAP.” This could also be written as:
  • “When you’re able, please send me the tracking information from ABC Widget Company (I need to confirm delivery ASAP).”

The parenthesis gets the job done, but comes off as more of an afterthought. It’s also not as clean-looking as a dash.

Get To The Point Without Being Abrupt

young man on zoom call in pajamasUnless you’re emailing someone with whom you have a very cordial relationship, just get to the point – no one has time to sift through mountains of text to get to the heart of a matter. At the same time, there’s a fine line between brevity and abruptness. How do you toe this line? Here are some pointers:

  • Always start a new email with a salutation (“Hi Greg, XYZ message…). It is not necessary to start every email within an ongoing thread with a salutation.
  • Be cordial with your first line. “I hope you had a great weekend,” or “I trust you’re doing well” indicate that you care about the human being reading your message, even if only at a surface level.
  • Get to the point on the next line. “Can you help me locate records for XYZ thing?”

Stop Using Ellipses

Ellipses are a marvel of non-verbal communication. They’re used for one of two reasons:

  1. To omit parts of text for brevity’s sake in an academic paper when you’re directly quoting something, i.e. “Four score and seven years ago…dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
  2. To indicate that the writer has something on his/her mind, but isn’t saying anything about it, i.e. “I hope we can figure this out…”

Given that we typically aren’t quoting others in emails, ellipses therefore have the effect of making the reader wonder, “What’s going on? Is something wrong?” Misuse of ellipses is very common, so it’s unlikely someone using it them indicating hat they’re holding some cards very close to their chest. Still, they change the tone of an email in a noticeable, negative way.

Stop using ellipses.


We encourage you to pay close attention to the emails you receive, and certainly the ones you send. Ready to talk about the other aspects of your image? We’re help to help. Give us a call at 215-310-0219 or email info@henrydavidsen.com to get started.

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