Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


Email Etiquette: Still Puzzling After All These Years

Though email has been around for a while, I still get numerous questions from business people and reporters about how to use it appropriately in the business world. Here are some of the more recent questions:

1. I see both e-mail and email. What is the correct spelling?
Both are correct, as long as you consistently spell the word the same way throughout a document. But remember that our language is always evolving. When the AP Stylebook was revised recently, the hyphen disappeared from email within its covers. Most print media in the United States follows AP (Associated Press) style. I have eliminated the hyphen in email, also.

2. I received an email that clearly wasn’t intended for me. Should I let the sender know?
If the sender will be expecting a reply, you need to let that person know. One woman in a similar situation wrote: I know you’re very busy, but I don’t think you meant to send this email to me. And I wanted to let you know so you can send it to the correct person.

3. I need to send an email to a group of people. What would be an appropriate salutation? I have used, “Hi all,” but that sounds awkward.
You could use “Hello Everyone.” You could also just say “Hello.”

4. Is it okay to use email to send a thank-you note?
In today’s business-casual world, an email thank-you note is acceptable. Email still doesn’t replace the personal quality of a handwritten note, but if you want the note to get to the person quickly, you need to use email.

5. I send a lot of emails to people I have not met. I always begin addressing the emails to a Ms. or Mr. "last name." If, after corresponding through several emails, the person signs all of his or her responses with just a first name, can I start addressing my emails to the first name?
The general guideline about switching to first names is, as you stated, when a person signs his or her first name. This is your signal to respond using the first name. If you don’t, you may appear stiff and impersonal.

6. I never know at what point I no longer need to respond to someone’s email. Any suggestions?
If the person needs to know that you received the information, or the person has helped you, you need to respond. A quick “Thanks” is usually all that is needed.

7. Do I need to use a salutation?
Email doesn’t technically require a salutation, since it is in memo format. And when email first appeared, many people did not use salutations. Eventually, people started adding a salutation to appear friendlier and to soften the tone of their writings.

8. What color ink and font sizes are acceptable in business emails?
With all the options available on computers, it can be tempting to get carried away using large fonts or very small fonts, and different colors. Don’t. Make your emails easy for others to read. Black ink is appropriate for all business writing – including emails. Generally, it is best to use 10- or 12-point type and an easy-to-read font such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman.

9. I just encountered at work the "danger" of writing an email directly to one person without considering the fact that the email may be forwarded or shared with others. I was embarrassed. Was it okay for the recipient to forward my email?
A basic guideline is to assume that others will see what you write, so don’t write anything you wouldn’t want everyone to see. Email is easy for people to forward to others. Ideally, people would forward only good news and general information, but that doesn’t always happen. Better safe than sorry.


  1. I have seen email correspondences misused by supervisors where the reply to the subordinate has been copied to others as well (reference point number 9 in your post).

    In such a case, it is crucial to maintain polite but firm language when the email slinging match starts!

  2. Anonymous11/01/2012

    Herewith my comment on two issues as numbered 2 and 5 in your blog of 31st October.
    (2) If an email is clearly not intended to me, I would send a reply (not reply to all) reading: "As I presume your message was not intended to me, I will delete it." By the way, I would never reply to a message that looks like phishing or spam.
    (5) If a sender puts his/her first name only under a message, I would address my email to his/her first name. I would not do so if the sender puts both his/her first name and surname.

  3. Anonymous11/01/2012

    From A Reader:
    It even gets trickier socially when you're dealing with such questions as, "I am having a party and have given my email address for rsvps. Do I need to reply to say that I have received the rsvp message? Or is that like thanking for a thank-you note? Can the sender assume I have received her rsvp?"

  4. Anonymous11/01/2012

    From A Reader:
    Another etiquette issue I have seen is this: Alice sends an email to Bob. Bob replies and copies a dozen other people. Unless the others need absolutely to be aware of the conversation it wastes their time and upsets Alice. I mostly see this as a CYA measure on Bob's part.

  5. Anonymous11/01/2012

    From A Reader:
    Also, note that when an email is hard to understand, people assume the most negative interpretation!

    Proofread your email backwards -- read the last sentence first, etc. -- to make sure to catch errors in spelling, grammar, tone (polite enough?), and especially coherence and clarity. Take the time to proofread, because accuracy doesn't just "get the job done" of communicating but also shows your attention to detail and impeccability.

    This is important when writing to people who don't know you well.

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