E-mailing & E-mail Etiquette

BMH Durban lecturer, Julia Sutherland, provides  excellent advice and pointers on writing professional e-mails and e-mail etiquette.

mail contact

E-mail is an important communication tool within both the personal and professional context (that includes your college career) :

  • It is immediate.
  • Messages can be saved for later review.
  • Messages can be forwarded on, in their original form, to other recipients.
  • It is a means of sharing documentation easily and collaborating on projects without having to meet face-to-face.
  • It is flexible in that you can send both formal and informal messages.

There are many disadvantages to e-mail communication too though:

  • It is easy to misunderstand someone without the usual non-verbal cues we get from face-to-face communication.
  • E-mails are often less formal than other forms of communication, thus an e-mail sender is more likely to write something that they would not ordinarily say in a face-to-face conversation and which may cause offense.
  • It’s also easy to click the “send” button too early or to send a message to the wrong recipient.

Drafting an E-mail

Whatever the topic, e-mails require careful consideration when being drafted which is why you need to ensure that you follow the Five C’s:

  • Be clear
  • Be courteous
  • Be correct
  • Be concise
  • Be complete 

Unlike a formal business letter, you do not need to format an e-mail with an address etc. There are however certain structural rules you need to keep in mind:

  • Add the e-mail address last.
  • Always include a subject line but keep it short and informative 
  • Open with a simple but appropriate greeting
  • Keep the body of the e-mail short and use paragraphs to divide up the information – the same as you would do in an essay: one paragraph for one topic.
  • Your tone should be friendly, positive and professional. Remember: e-mails can be forwarded and work inboxes are not private.
  • Invite a brief response, if necessary.
  • Include an attachment, if necessary, but never send an attachment on its own without any subject line or communication explaining its context.
  • End with a complimentary close.
  • PAUSE BEFORE SENDINGproof read (spelling, grammar, punctuation, details such as times, dates etc.) and make sure you have included everything that is necessary.


E-mail Etiquette

  • Only use industry jargon if the other person is familiar with the jargon.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, use SMS or text speak (e.g. “u” instead of “you”)
  • Get to the point quickly, don’t be too conversational.
  • Do not use ALL CAPS – this means you are shouting.
  • Always address someone specific – don’t just launch into the body of the e-mail without a proper greeting / introduction.
  • Do not demand, always ask (e.g. “Please may I have a copy…” vs. “I want a copy…”)
  • “Please” and “Thank You” are magical words.
  • Avoid using exclamation marks!!!!!!
  • Use a professional e-mail address (e.g. joe.s@gmail.com vs. joe-the-man@gmail.com)
  • Be cautious with humour.
  • Think before hitting: “reply to all” and / or “cc” – use these sparingly.
  • Do not use causal salutations (e.g. Dear Jane vs. Hey Jane)
  • Respond to incoming e-mails as soon as possible.
  • Do not forget to proof read.


Using the correct e-mail etiquette will result in:

  • The reader receiving all the information they need, enabling them to respond or proceed accordingly.
  • The reader not being irritated and / or offended by your e-mail as this may affect their actions / response.
  • The reader taking you seriously.



Shober, D. (2013). Essential Business Communication – Communicating with a vision (2nd ed.). Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers.

Smith, J. & Giang, V. (2014, September 3). 11 Email Etiquette Rules Every Professional Should Know. Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/email-etiquette-rules-everyone-should-know-2014-9