Email at Work

by Barbara Buffton

Some email basics

These are things we should all know, but it’s good to be reminded of them every now and again.

Remember, every communication with the outside world represents you, your organisation and your brand. Use appropriate language and think of the impact on the recipient, especially if they are external to your organisation.


Make sure you attach them! There is something very irritating about receiving an email which mentions an attachment which has been omitted. You then have to go back to the sender to request it.


With any new message, add the relevant attachment before you type anything else.

Greetings and signatures

Some people like to be addressed and feel it’s rude if you just launch straight into your message. It is therefore safer to use ‘Dear X’, ‘Hello X’ or ‘Hi X’ initially until you feel you know the recipient well enough to dispense with any salutation. This is particularly important when dealing with people higher up the organisational hierarchy or with those from different nationalities who might find it rude if you don’t greet them by name or greet them too informally.

Signatures are equally important, and in fact required legally in some cases (see Security and legal issues).

Email trails

Stick to a single subject area within email trails – that is, do not respond to an email that is connected with one subject matter about another, unrelated subject matter.

If possible, delete unnecessary emails from the trail or edit the information to make it clearer what you are responding to specifically (some companies might not allow you to do this).

Build rapport with the recipient

If someone only sends you short emails, do not respond with long, complicated ones. If they use a greeting and a signature, then you might think about doing the same. Building rapport with your recipient in this way means they are more likely to want to respond to you.

 How do they operate?

Valuing someone else’s modus operandi

Jeff would always send an email outlining project plans to his colleague in another office. His colleague invariably phoned him on receipt of these emails to discuss the way forward. One day it occurred to Jeff that he had never had an email in response. From then on, he took to phoning his colleague first and talking through the project plans. He followed up these phone calls with emails in order to have a record of what they discussed and agreed. He noticed that he now got on much better with his colleague than ever before.

Make it readable and accurate

Have your spell checker switched on and educate it to accept words you use frequently.

Choose a font size and colour that is easily readable on the screen, such as black Arial 10 or 11 point, with white space between paragraphs.

Over-use of the high priority option

If you overuse the high priority option, it will lose its function when you really need it. Equally, ‘high priority’ emails are not always the ones to open first, though if the sender is someone higher up the organisational hierarchy than you, you may wish to open that one first. In general, the subject heading should give clues as to the actual level of priority.


Getting into good habits

Choose a couple of emails that you have sent and check the following (or ask someone else to evaluate them):

  • Is it obvious what you wanted?
  • How clear is your subject line?
  • Did you start with a greeting? And if not, is that appropriate?
  • Is it easy to read?
  • Do they need all the information?
  • Have you made any assumptions that aren’t helpful?
  • Any there spelling or grammatical errors?