E-mail Etiquette

Best Impressions

What kind of impression is your e-mail conveying? Use the following tips to make sure it's a good one.

  • Check spelling. Although e-mail is less formal than traditional mail, appearance still counts. Many businesspeople interpret a misspelled message as evidence of carelessness. Are you sure this is the image you want to convey?

If your e-mail software offers a spell-checking feature, use it. Otherwise, you have two alternatives: Either use a dictionary, or compose your message with a word processing package and use its spelling checker. Then copy (or cut and paste) the text into your e-mail application.

  • Don't yell. When composing your e-mail message, use upper- and lower-case typing. Using only upper-case letters is considered the equivalent of SHOUTING!
  • Use "emoticons" and acronyms where necessary. Written e-mail communication cannot convey gestures, vocal inflection or body language to the recipient. Sometimes this can lead to misinterpreted messages. To address this shortcoming, e-mail users have developed a set of symbols dubbed "emoticons" to convey nonverbal intent. Common emoticons include:

I'm grinning as I write this sentence.

I'm laughing out loud.

I'm rolling on the floor [laughing].

:-) denotes a smile (Turn your head 90 degrees to the left to see why.)

;-) denotes a wink

Being familiar with common acronyms used online will save you typing time:

  • FYI
  • ASAP
  • BTW (by the way)
  • IM[H]O (in my [humble] opinion)
  • Phrase your messages positively. It's important to avoid harsh or negative wording. Phrasing a message positively elicits a better response from the recipient and ensures a greater chance of clear understanding.

For example, consider the following pairs of phrases:

1. "We cannot permit you to use this material."

2. "We regretfully are unable to permit you to use this material."


1. "We cannot ship your order until your account is current."

2. "Once your account is current, we can ship your order."

Each sentence in the pair has the same meaning. However, the second one sounds friendlier and will create a better impression with the recipient.

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This article was originally published in the September 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: E-mail Etiquette.

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