Harry Gardiner

The Ultimate Guide to Email Etiquette

24th Sep 2015 Content Marketing Blog 6 minutes to read

The Ultimate Guide to Email Etiquette

Emails are a quick and effective way to send information and data anywhere in the world. Much like any other text-based form of communication, they’re also incredibly easy to misinterpret and take out of context.

For the extremely confident, email mistakes can be brushed off with a shrug and a winky face, but for the socially anxious and those who truly care about how they are perceived, crafting and sending the perfect email can be a nerve-racking experience.

Roy Tomlinson may have claimed that his first ever emails were “entirely forgettable”, but I bet even he debated and agonised over the right thing to write, even if it was just to himself! I’ll let Domics explain what I mean in the video below:

With that in mind, I’ve set out to solve this problem once and for all. Below you’ll find a comprehensive guide to email etiquette, including the best time to email, how to structure your messages and the optimal language to use.

Who Do You Think You’re Talking to?

First things first, you need to tailor your message to your audience.

If you work in marketing, you’ll have heard this old adage a million times already. There’s a good reason why: it’s true. Much like marketing, your email is a form of communication between you and another person, usually because you have a request, problem or solution for that person.

In the same way that you wouldn’t market feminine hygiene products to a teenage boy, you should tailor the tone, structure and language within your email to suit the recipient.

Start by separating those you communicate with into several circles.

  • Circle 1 can be loved ones and close friends.
  • Circle 2 can be colleagues.
  • Circle 3 can be clients, higher ups and anyone who’s in a position of authority over you.
  • Circle 4 can be bloggers, journalists and other professionals that are essentially strangers to you (having never met them face to face).
  • Circle 5 is the spam circle. Spammers don’t warrant your time or effort, so I won’t write much about them here, but I will share these hilarious stories on how you can deal with them inventively.
Circles of trust

Circles of trust

You should adopt a different tone when emailing people within each of those circles. For example, those in your innermost circle will receive much more personal messages than those all the way out in Circle 4.

Next time you go to hit “send” on an email, think about this circle, and ask yourself where the recipient sits. If the email’s tone matches that you’d associate with the people in that circle, you’re in the clear. If not, it’s time to take things back to the drawing board.

Best Email Structure to Use

Structuring a professional email should be easy as pie, but sometimes it can feel more like you’re stuck on the last level of Tetris with no lives left.

Luckily for you, there are a few sure-fire tips which you can follow to help you build the ideal email.

  1. Begin and end the email just like you would a letter. You don’t always need to use formal sign offs such as “Yours sincerely”, but a simple “Hi” and “Many thanks” make everything much more polite.
  2. Keep your introduction short, and get to the point quickly. You’ve already got their attention the moment they open the email; don’t waste it by explaining your background and credentials.
  3. Use short paragraphs to emphasise the beginning, middle and end. Paragraphs not only make the text much easier to read, they also look smarter and help you structure your message. Subheadings, pictures, bullet points and numbered lists are all useful for the very same reason.
  4. Don’t waffle on. Keep your message nice and succinct. If you need to send a large body of text, send it as an attached document.

Personally, I use a checklist to ensure all my emails are structured properly and contain the necessary information.

Lists like this may change depending on whom you’re addressing, but I’ve included an example in the picture below to give you a rough idea of how they work:

Email Structure Checklist

The above list acts as a rough guide, allowing me to ensure that every email I send is succinct and clear.

Best Language to Use

As mentioned above, the language and tone of voice used within your email will change and develop depending on whom you’re addressing, and what your email contains.

Speak as You Want to Be Spoken to

When it comes to professional emails, which includes outreach and promotion, your messages should be friendly yet formal. Watch your tone, as certain bad habits – like one word replies (the dreaded yet overused “k” comes to mind) and SENTENCES IN ALL CAPS – can make you sound rude, angry or overexcited.

Think about what it is you’re trying to say to the reader, and then visualise how you would want it said to you.

Unless you’re going for tongue in cheek, you should probably avoid using slang or popular abbreviations. Because let’s face it, no one over the age of 10 actually talks like this:

“OMG!!! U jst hv 2 c dis cat pic! TOTES ADORBZZZZ!”

Cute Kitten

This adorable cat is disappointed in the way you email


Check your email. Now check it again. Now read it aloud to yourself. Does the writing make sense? Is the message clear? Are there any spelling errors? Spelling mistakes are rookie mistakes, and an email that’s not proofed is an email that’s not worth sending.

Also, unless you consider the person a close friend, try and avoid emojis in emails.


Best Time to Email

So, now you’ve crafted an email that’s perfectly tailored to your recipient, and you feel confident enough to hit that “send” button. But wait, when is the best time to send it? This is a question that has been answered countless times, yet nobody is 100% sure.

Mailchimp suggests around 2 pm midday, mid-week.

WordStream say that your best chance of response will be Thursday between 8 and 9 am.

Yesware stated that they received the best open and reply rates by sending mail on the weekend.

So when should you hit send? That all depends on what you’re sending and whom you’re sending it to. By understanding your audience, you’ll be able to determine when they will be most receptive to your message.

If you’re contacting a young, tech-savvy person with an offer, then the weekend, or later in the day, could be an ideal time. You can reach them on their mobile, away from the office, and grab their attention. However, if you’re emailing a professional, with sensitive, work-related information, try to beat the rush and get the email sent out first thing in the morning on a weekday.

Think back to the circles outlined earlier. When would you most like to be contacted by the people in each of those circles?

Awkward Examples

Whilst the above video showcases the worst that can happen with emails, it’s really not that far off the everyday truth. For some more great examples of how not to outreach, check out these awesome articles from across the web:

If you’re serious about email marketing, the video below reveals five tips and tricks which will help you email the right way:

For more information on emails, outreach, and marketing, get in touch with a member of the Koozai team today.

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