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Published

2 April 2024

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In the Western world, email is the lifeblood of modern business communication. Although for those working overseas, especially in the East, many there now find email fairly long-form and are moving to more instant messaging systems like WhatsApp, WeChat and Slack.

A 2019 survey by software company Adobe found that, on average, westerners check their emails 352 minutes a day – a good reason as ever to be sure we show digital decorum and make our emails as effective as possible.

Here’s a reminder of some etiquette for emails.

Correct form for emails

An email is an electronic letter. Many of the conventions of correct form for letter-writing carry across to the etiquette of emails, especially for formal initial emails in the UK.

The salutation (beginning) and close (sign-off) of an email should be the same as for written correspondence. The style of the close (sign-off) varies depending on the salutation.

SalutationClose
Dear SirYours faithfully
Dear MadamYours faithfully
Dear Mr SmithYours sincerely

For emails where you open with ‘Dear David’ (i.e. their first name), then there are no hard and fast rules as to how to close. You could use ‘With all good wishes’, ‘With every best wish’, ‘Many thanks’, or similar.

Slang and contractions

For business emails, all these should be avoided for many reasons.

  • Slang can confuse people if they do not know what it means, and if they have to look up a word, you have wasted their time – not something we ever want to do with effective communication.
  • Not only are some emojis open to interpretation, but they do not give off a professional demeanour.
  • Contractions, such as ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’, should be written in full in formal emails for work purposes.

Blind copying (Bcc)

This rarely ends well, and senders end up looking sneaky if it gets found out. If you need someone to see an email without the main recipients knowing that the other person has seen it, it is better etiquette to send the email and then forward the email to the ‘hidden’ recipient.

If appropriate, flag (in writing or by calling) that you do not wish the main recipients to know the ‘hidden’ recipient has seen the email.

Replying to emails

Realistically, we suggest all emails are replied to within two (working) days. Even if a holding email is sent, letting them know you have received the email but need longer to come back to them, that is better than ‘ghosting’ someone and taking forever to reply. It is so easy to check and reply to emails in this day and age, and there is little excuse not to reply efficiently.

If you are going to be away (on annual leave or on an external client project), always set an out of office message – this will help buy you some time before you need to reply.

When to send an email

A key piece of etiquette for emails relates to when you choose to send the email.

Many email platforms have a schedule-send option where you can choose (to the minute) when the email will be sent. This is especially good for business people who may be early risers or night owls and be clearing through their inboxes at a conventionally unsociable hour.

The recipients will not share in the early-rising business person’s efficiency when they wake up to 14 emails they have to read and deal with before 9am. To get the best response from a recipient, especially if you are asking a favour, consider their time.

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