Imagine you opened a business marketing email and read the following:

Hey bro, Wyd? Did u see what I sent u yesterday? Check it out and lmk what u think.

Right away, the tone seems rude and unprofessional. It might even jeopardize a business relationship.

Email etiquette is a set of commonly accepted norms for email communication. Those norms vary based on the parties involved as well as the situation and cover everything about the message, from vocabulary to layout.

Whether a message is your first impression with someone or your thousandth, etiquette helps you make a better impression and achieve career success.

Why is email etiquette important?

Proper email etiquette tells recipients you respect them, their time, and your professional relationships. In marketing, it establishes you as a trustworthy business people are comfortable buying from. 

Marketing and sales

When you start email marketing, you learn about best practices like personalizing your messages and building your email list. You understand the importance of writing in your brand voice but don’t always learn how to follow email etiquette rules.

Those rules tell a prospect or lead you’re a competent and experienced professional. They help the recipient feel respected, which helps to build the relationship.

Customer service

Etiquette is serious business in service-related messages. The topic is often sensitive, and the reader will likely be upset with something the company did.

A professional and neutral tone is essential. Express your commitment to finding a solution and avoid “passing the baton” back to the customer. Always include a proposed solution.

Technical support

If you have to email someone about website operations or another technical topic, be as straightforward as possible about the problem. Use screenshots whenever possible and explain where and how the problem occurs. 

Elements of email etiquette

Email etiquette includes what you say and how you say it. The visual layout of your email shows your knowledge of what a professional message looks like, and the content reinforces that perception.

Anatomy of a professional email

Whatever the topic, professional email etiquette calls for the following structure:

  • Your name as the sender
  • The subject line
  • The greeting or “salutation,”
  • An introduction
  • Your reason for writing
  • What you’re asking of the recipient (call to action/CTA)
  • Next steps
  • A sign-off
  • Your email signature

This email structure lets you keep your messages concise, which indicates respect for the reader’s time. Here’s an example that touches on all of the essential body copy points:

Sales prospect email from the National Association of Sales Professionals blog
This is an excellent example of a concise and professional sales prospect email. It covers all essential points without being curt or harsh. Image source: National Association of Sales Professionals blog.

The same format works for any marketing or sales email, from a promotional message to an inquiry response.

Punctuation and grammar

Whether or not you think of yourself as a ‘writing person,” a grammatically correct email reflects better on you and your business. Spelling and grammar errors hurt your credibility at best and make you look like a spammer at worst.

Imagine what you’d think if you received an email announcing “50 percetn off” or asking you to “submit you’re email.” Many of us would go to Google and search for the sender’s name and the word “scam.”

Fortunately, in the age of spell-check and tools like Grammarly, there’s no excuse for these errors in a business email. Consider using these tools regularly, even if you’re confident in your spelling and grammar skills. 

Evolution of email etiquette: Past and present best practices

Digital culture changes rapidly, and email etiquette is no exception. What was professional 20 years ago might seem stuffy and outdated today, and what was curt or unprofessional might not even raise an eyebrow.

Hello and goodbye

Overall, email formalities seem to be falling by the wayside. In a recent consumer survey, two-thirds of respondents reported using the casual greeting “Hi {firstname}.” “Good morning” came in second place, slightly beating out “Hello.”

In marketing, formality levels depend more on your brand’s personality. More formal brands may still require the “Dear Mr. So-and-so” approach. A casual “Hi” or “Hey”  sounds more appropriate for a casual consumer brand. 

Sign-offs are similar. Consider how your brand communicates and use that to determine whether to close with “Thank you for your time” or “Have a great day!”

In both cases, keep it personal by including the recipient’s name. Constant Contact makes it simple with automated greeting tags.

Emojis in emails

Emojis are like hellos and goodbyes — everything depends on your brand’s personality and the topic of the email. 

Consider using emojis in your subject line if you’re writing a more lighthearted message. The right emoji can catch the reader’s eye and boost your open rates. 

Your emojis should relate as closely as possible to your subject and be easy for your audience to interpret. Remember, younger audiences are probably more familiar with popular emoji trends. 

When in doubt, leave it out!

One-line replies

One-line replies are fine for inter-office emails, but be cautious with them in marketing. If a thread is on its third or fourth volley, and you have a good rapport with the recipient, a polite “Thanks for your patience; I’ll check in on that and get back to you” might be fine. Still, avoid it if there’s any chance it might come across as a brush-off.

The rules of good email etiquette

Although email etiquette has changed, business messaging still has its norms. Memorize these basic rules — or print them out and post them on your office wall.

Use a professional email address

A professional email address includes your company as the domain and your name or a relevant cue word in the sender field. Examples include:


The professional domain name is the most important part. It helps you avoid spam folders and reminds recipients of who you represent.

Write clear and descriptive subject lines

Your subject line introduces your email. It’s good etiquette to make that line as clear and concise as possible, respecting the reader’s time and attention.

Good marketing subject lines are concise but persuasive. Spark curiosity and promise something valuable to the reader. For example:

  • Fall sale ends in 2 days!
  • Your favorites are back in stock

On average, recipients open 34.5% of emails you send as part of a campaign. Stronger subject lines improve your open rate.

Always introduce yourself

If there’s any chance your recipient doesn’t know or remember you or your company, start the email by offering your name or introducing your team and business. Then, remind them of why you’re reaching out. For example:

  • Hi, my name is Linus, and I’m a customer service representative here at Peanuts Inc. Sally from our marketing department forwarded your question to me, and I’d love to help resolve your issue.
  • A warm welcome from the team at Acme! Thanks for joining our list — we’re so happy to have you in our community. (This reminds them that they opted in to receive email from you, something they must do for you to legally contact them.)

You can skip the introduction if you’re replying to a pre-existing thread. Replace it with a reference to the previous message, such as, “Following up on your conversation yesterday.”

Maintain a professional tone

Even if you know a coworker well, use professional language. Avoid slang and excessive or unfamiliar abbreviations.

Eliminate or spell out industry acronyms in client communications unless you’re confident the recipient understands them. For instance, you don’t need to spell out search engine optimization (SEO) for an audience of content marketing consultants, but you would for an entrepreneur with a plumbing business.

Keep your message clear and concise

Emails should be no longer than necessary. If you can cut a phrase without losing meaning, do so. Pleasantries like “Hope this finds you well” are acceptable in formal emails, but you can cut them in casual messages. 

Additionally, your calls to action (CTAs) should be specific and actionable. Use text that describes the destination. Instead of telling the recipient to “click here,” invite them to “learn more about our new program.”

Tag recipients appropriately

Email tags help you divide your subscriber database into interest groups, also known as segments. Segmenting your email list lets you send more relevant emails, which shows recipients you respect their time and understand their needs.

Avoid sending confidential or private information

Including private information in an email is risky. In some industries, such as healthcare, doing so can be illegal. Avoid mentioning anything confidential in an email. 

In marketing or customer service messages, only mention or refer to information the recipient knowingly offered you. Don’t allude to the personal information you gathered from third-party data, even if it seems benign.

Email signature etiquette

You might have noticed that most professional emails include the person’s name, contact information, professional role, and company name. Email signatures have become the standard in professional communication. Here’s one example:

If your company has a standard signature format, use it as-is. If you’re responsible for creating and branding your email signature, make a simple template that includes all the above contact and company information. Here’s an excellent example for reference:

Email Signature from Lisa Ann S. Santin of LASS Wardrobe
This simple but elegant email signature includes everything a client would need to know, plus subtle grading to create visual variety. Image source: LASS Wardrobe

Check it twice before sending

Typos make an email seem like a rush job and can lead to serious misunderstandings. Proofread every email you send, checking for spelling and formatting. Be sure all intended attachments and links are there.

Reply quickly and professionally

It’s important to get back to people quickly when they contact you with questions. According to surveyed respondents on LinkedIn, most people expect a reply to a professional email within one business day.

Keep track of whatever inbox you have set up to receive replies, especially right after you send an email blast or newsletter. If there’s any chance you can’t get back to them within a day — no shame, people are busy — set up an autoresponder to reply instantly. The automated email should have answers to basic questions and give an estimate of when the sender should receive a reply. 

Be cautious with “Reply all”

There’s a rule of thumb in email reply etiquette — reply to the people who need to hear your response, and leave everyone else out. For instance, if a coworker cc’s you on a message to a prospect, don’t reply all if you only need the coworker to see your response. 

For marketing emails, a customer may be part of the email chain if you’re discussing a support issue they raised. The last thing you want is to include a customer in an internal conversation. It sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to click the wrong button.

Getting specific: Etiquette for different types of emails 

Some situations call for a special touch. Here are some etiquette rules that apply in addition to those you’ve already learned.

Follow-up emails

Be gracious and positive whenever you need to follow up on a message, especially when waiting for a late reply. Reference the issue in your subject line — “Next steps on service request” will catch that instead of “following up.” Reiterate your ask briefly and politely mention a target timeframe for their reply.

Cold emails

Cold emails require a careful touch. Follow all the best practices you’ve learned, but shift your focus almost entirely to the recipient. Keep the focus on the recipient and their pain points, only turning to yourself at the end when you invite them to reach out.

Misunderstandings and angry recipients

If you have to clear up an issue over email, review the issue before you write a word. Be sure you understand what happened and why the person is upset. 

They can be emotional, but you can’t. Empathize with their frustration and offer to make things right. If possible, propose a solution or offer to contact them by phone and discuss things further. This is the time for a more neutral style and tone.

Final tips and common issues

With the email etiquette tips you’ve learned here, you can handle any written communication your professional life presents. Add these last few tips to your toolbox, and you’re ready.

  • Be aware of cultural differences. Cultural norms determine the level of formality, directness, and “small talk” in emails. Pay attention to communication norms and adjust accordingly.
  • Resist sending controversial material. Avoid hot-button issues in internal and marketing messages, except when you need to make an official statement.
  • Use humor carefully. It’s okay to be funny in specific marketing messages if it suits your brand voice, but keep the jokes out of more formal or serious situations.
  • Take cybersecurity seriously. Did you know more than nine in 10 organizations have had security issues because of outbound email? Don’t send account numbers or passwords to anyone over email, and always know who you’re sending to.
  • Be concise: Readers should get to the main point of your email within a few seconds of reading.
  • Set limits for back-and-forth communications: If an email has gone back and forth several times without a resolution, it’s time for a phone call. Discuss with your team to set the appropriate limit for digital communications.

First steps to mastering email etiquette

Congratulations — you’ve now familiarized yourself with the basics of business email etiquette and reviewed email etiquette examples. Start using these principles with every email campaign you send, from prospect follow-ups to email marketing. Notice which principles feel most important and relevant to each type of email.

Don’t worry if it feels unfamiliar or overwhelming at first. Print out or bookmark this list of best practices and refer to it as needed. The more you practice, the faster it will feel like second nature.