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Updated: August 21, 2023 How To

'Show some respect' and other email etiquette tips

Nancy Marshall
Provided file photo
Nancy Marshall

Can you imagine a time when we didn’t have emails?

I remember when my late father, who was an electrical engineer for Westinghouse, first got email and his administrative assistant would print out all of the messages for him. He would then bring the emails home at night and write out his responses, so she could type and send them out for him the next day. What a time!

I don’t know about you, but I process through hundreds of emails a day now. My fingers fly across my keyboard. (Thank goodness I took a typing class in eighth grade, so I can type as fast as thoughts come into my busy mind.) But it shouldn’t be all about speed.

So let’s slow down a bit, cowboy. 

Remember that every email you send is a representation of your personal brand. Emails essentially reflect your personality and your reputation. Emailing impacts the way that the recipient feels about you, and whether or not they respect you as a professional.

After all, your personal brand is based on how you make other people feel, so you need to put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and think about how your words will impact them when you send that email.

Here are 10 tips for email etiquette

1. Make sure that you’re using a professional email address. If you still have an AOL or Yahoo address, you are going to be perceived as a dinosaur. Ideally you should have a .com email address that is branded with your business or organization.

2. Subject lines are important. For people like me, who may receive hundreds of messages a day, and the subject line gives a quick preview as to an email’s importance. It is also a way for people to go back and find an email when they need it later on.

3. Make an appropriate greeting and sign-off. At a minimum, you should want to greet someone by saying “good morning” or “good afternoon,” commenting on the weather or asking how they’re doing today. Likewise, at the end of your email, sign off cordially and professionally. I cannot stand it when some person who doesn’t even know me greets me with a “Hey Nancy!” That’s way too casual for a random email. (I hit delete without even responding to those.)

4. Be careful about using “reply all.” If an email goes out to 30 people, it is likely that not all 30 of them need to see your response. Think twice and consider just responding to the person who sent the original message.

5. Do not use all caps. Back to the dinosaur reference: There’s nothing that will make you look more like one than typing your subject line or the message in all capital letters. It’s the same as shouting in-person.

6. Reply within 24 hours or put an away message. In business, promptness is expected. If you can’t be prompt, you need to have an auto-responder providing an explanation. Perhaps you can also provide the email of another person within your organization, just in case.

7. Keep the emojis to social media. Believe me, there are times I’ve been tempted to decorate my emails with the bahaha face or a cat emoji, but in the professional world, it’s best to hold back on the emojis. Go crazy with them on Instagram instead.

8. If you’re angry, write the email, but sit on it until tomorrow. If you are angry with someone, it’s fine to write the email, but don’t rush to send. It’s not getting you anywhere to vent and express rage in an email. Rise above it. Breathe. This too shall pass.

9. Show some respect. If you’re taking the time to email someone, you need to show them the respect they deserve, regardless of their status in life. They may be “above you” or “below you” in the pecking order, but always treat others the way you want to be treated.

10. Emailing is not the be-all and end-all of communication. There are still times when it is best to pick up the phone and make a call — yes, actually dial a number and talk to a person. Sometimes, you should actually send a letter in the mail, especially if it’s a thank you note. There’s no better way to stand out in a crowd than sending a handwritten note in the mail. 

Let’s face it: Email etiquette is the kind of topic that could turn into one of those tip-a-day calendars. But, for now, please post your thoughts in the comments and let’s keep the conversation going. One of the most important things in the world is to communicate with others, and emailing is just the beginning.

Nancy Marshall is the founder and CEO of Marshall Communications. She can be reached at

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