The In's and Out's of Professional Email

Julie Shenkman
Posted by

Like any other communication medium, email comes with a set of unwritten, but widely accepted, rules of conduct. The rules are particularly important in the workplace, where poor email etiquette can put your job in jeopardy. By understanding the rules and mores surrounding professional email messages, you can avoid irritating your colleagues and increase your chances of getting a response.

Subject Lines

Many professionals receive tens or hundreds of emails each day. When an email comes through with a blank or vague subject line, it forces the recipient to spend time opening the message and reading the text to discern the purpose. If the recipient is busy, he may ignore the email or leave it until a more convenient time. Respect your contacts' time and increase the likelihood of timely action by using clear, direct subject lines in professional email messages. Avoid general subjects, such as "Anderson project." Instead, explain the purpose of the email in no uncertain terms. Subjects such as "Anderson project deadline moved" or "Quick question about Anderson project presentation" allow recipients to gauge the urgency of the message and determine whether or not they have time to respond immediately.


In the age of social media, it's easy to get overly comfortable with informal communication, especially if you are among the millenials, who have grown up with Facebook and Twitter. In a professional email, it is almost always inappropriate to use emoticons, ignore capitalization and punctuation or use shortcuts such as "lol" or "brb." Even when you are using a mobile device — or include a "Sent from my iPhone" caveat in the email signature — it is important to maintain a certain level of formality. Professional email messages can be conversational, but they should always use correct sentence structure, proper grammar and punctuation. As a general rule, you shouldn't send anything that you'd be embarrassed to email to the company CEO or your most important client.

Email Functions

The forwarding, reply all, BCC and CC functions on an email program can either be your best friends or your worst enemies. When used correctly, these functions can help you keep colleagues in the loop and preserve the anonymity of recipients. If you select the wrong option, you might find yourself irritating co-workers with too many messages or accidentally sending an embarrassing email out to the whole company. Start by understanding how each tool works and learning when to use it. When you begin composing a professional email, choosing the correct send function should be your first step. Don't wait until after you've written the email. After all, it takes just one second to hit the Send button; by the time you realize the recipients are wrong, it may be too late.

Professional email messages can be a minefield, particularly for people who are accustomed to communicating through text messages and Twitter. By developing a knowledge of email etiquette, you can present yourself to colleagues and clients as a competent and capable professional.

Image courtesy of arztsamui at



Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Ward W.
    Ward W.

    Good advice. I'd add another: proofread it before you send, or have somebody else do it. That can resolve typos, and remove such errors as misspellings ("Millennials") and grammar glitches "Ins and Outs").

  • Lisa C.
    Lisa C.

    Thank you for the tip.

Jobs to Watch