Etiquette by 85

Modern Etiquette: Email Correspondence

Illustration by Anna Emilia

I was so excited to tackle today’s etiquette post because, if you’re a blogger or someone who works online, you understand just how big a portion of our jobs email has become. From researching and interviewing to submissions and content management, email is the home base around which most of my business operates and returns to over and over again. Whether you’re a blogger, a business owner or someone who spends a lot of time on email, I can’t think of another area (aside from social media) that is so fraught with chances for huge snafus.

So today I’m going to tackle the basics and get into some nitty-gritty details. I’ve gone through all sorts of email phases in my life and, like most bloggers, I answer a few hundred emails a day. I’ve seen firsthand how well-written and friendly emails can make and break a reputation and both open and close doors for people. My goal is for everyone to have some tools and tricks in their pocket to help them feel confident to write the appropriate email for just about any situation. As always, I want this to be an open forum to discuss points you think are important, too. So if I’ve missed something or you disagree or you want to share a story that would be helpful to the rest of us reading, I wholeheartedly welcome your feedback. Email, like most online interactions, is constantly changing, and I think the more input we have from seasoned email pros, the better. Thanks for reading! xo, grace

The full post continues after the jump . . .

*Please note: Today’s post is primarily intended for professional emails. Obviously, if you’re writing to a dear friend, you don’t need to keep in mind a lot of the notes about formality and phrasing, etc.

Today I want to start by sharing a little system I created for myself after, of course, making mistakes that helped me better understand how to write — and how not to write — emails. It doesn’t have a clever acronym, but it’s a simple five-step process I try to follow every time.

1. Lead with an appropriate greeting: This is where formality and professionalism are important. Don’t abbreviate someone’s name if you don’t know them, and don’t use just their first name if they’re not a friend or a closer acquaintance. But definitely use a name. Mass emails and blank-name emails are a waste of everyone’s time and just get deleted by most people I know these days.

2. Introduce yourself: I never assume anyone knows who the heck I am, so I always introduce myself and my business in two short sentences. It helps to show someone who you are and why you and your email will be relevant to them.

3. Provide a short and sweet explanation: This is where most mistakes are made, I think. Keep your message short and to the point. Show that you’re respectful of their time, and, if requested, try to leave long personal/business information or stories for later.

4. Double check: Before you hit send, always spell-check, grammar-check and visually check that you’ve gotten the person’s name, title, company name and email correct. This can prevent the dreaded “Oops, I cut and paste this to everyone and now you can tell” mistake.

5. Polite closing: Always end with a “thank you” and your name. It never hurts to start and end on a polite note.

These are just the basics, but this little checklist is a great way to get started. Primarily because the things people want out of most emails are the things they’d want from any interaction — to feel respected, appreciated and understood. And by following a bit of email etiquette, it’s easy to give those things to the people you’re emailing and hopefully receive them in return.

I. Email addresses

Here’s a good chance to avoid one of email’s many pitfalls: the “mass CC.” When you’re sending an email to someone, think carefully about three things:

1. Do they have a contact email on their site? If so, use that. Don’t include a personal address if you know that’s not where they answer work email. You don’t want to email bomb them with the same email at multiple accounts.

2. If you’re including other people on the email, make sure all of those people NEED to be there, and that they KNOW they’re on there. If you’re open copying people who don’t typically share their email addresses, you’re going to step into hot water. Also, if you copy a dozen people who don’t really need to receive that email, that’s going to generate a lot of back and forth explaining who everyone is and why they’re there. Bottom line: If you need to copy several people, introduce them in the email and explain why they’re copied.

3. Write personal emails. If you want to email ten people the same thing and those people don’t know each other, write ten different emails. It’s rude to blanket copy people who have no connection and just assume they all want to be on a mass email.

II. Subject lines

Subject lines should be simple explanations of what’s inside, not a teaser line. I really hate it when emails say something like, “You’re going to want to open this!” or “URGENT OFFER,” and then you open them and find out neither is true. Use subject lines as short (no long sentences) eye-catchers. Like “New Furniture line from Brooklyn” or “Speaking invitation at NY College” or “Information you requested re: Brooklyn Letterpress.”

III. Openers

The beginning of any email is the first place you could lose someone quickly. The best thing to remember is that this is also your first chance to show you appreciate someone by taking the time to use their full name (spelled correctly — no abbreviations or nicknames) and the correct formality. Nothing sets off my red flags quicker than an email with no name, a majorly misspelled name or an abbreviation. Example: My parents don’t call me Gracie, so if you’re writing me for the first time, you probably shouldn’t either.

I sometimes go back and forth on those two or three tiny words that open an email. Here are my guidelines based on recipient:

  • Someone you don’t know at all: Hello, Mrs. Smith or Ms. Smith (I always feel weird saying Dear, So and So.)
  • Someone I sort of know: Hi, Karen
  • Someone I know well: Hey, Karen or Hi, Karen (I often use an exclamation point with people I know, e.g., Hi, Karen! to indicate a friendly, upbeat hello.)

 

When in doubt, the main thing to remember with an opener is to use someone’s proper name, spelled correctly.

IV. Introductions

I’m a firm believer in taking a sentence or two to introduce yourself. Sometimes people skip that part, and it makes a big difference in how you prioritize that email if you don’t remember how you met, why you should know them, etc. Something simple like this should suffice:

Hi, Karen. My name is Grace, and I run a design blog called Design*Sponge. We met last month at the trade show through our mutual friend, Amy. I hope this email finds you well . . .

Taking a moment to introduce yourself — briefly — is thoughtful and really helps form that click or connection that can be valuable when trying to grab someone and stand out in a day’s worth of emails. If you haven’t met someone, it’s completely fine to just introduce what you do, where you do it and why it’s relevant to them. For example:

Hello, Mrs. Smith. My name is Grace Bonney, and I run a Brooklyn-based design blog called Design*Sponge. I’ve been covering southern textile designers for the past eight years and love the work you’ve done with the Textile Alliance.

These brief two- to three-sentence introductions show that you know who the person is, that you took the time to consider whether you and your business are a good fit for them and that you can keep your information brief and to the point.

V. The Meat of the Email

The body of any email is where most of the work happens. This is where you’re sharing your business or product with someone, asking for advice or a favor or simply relaying information that’s relevant.

No matter how busy someone is, it’s best to assume that they don’t live to read email 24/7, and that keeping things short and sweet would be helpful. I try to keep things to two brief paragraphs. Something along these lines:

Hello, Mrs. Smith. My name is Grace Bonney, and I run a Brooklyn-based design blog called Design*Sponge. I’ve been covering southern textile designers for the past eight years and love the work you’ve done with the Textile Alliance.

I’m writing because Design*Sponge is doing a special week on textiles, and we would love to interview you, or someone from Textile Alliance, as part of the series. I know your time is probably limited, so I would be more than happy to send you questions via email if time permits.

Our readership is a passionate audience that has a history of responding strongly to artist profiles and following up with purchases from their collections. My hope is that an interview with you or some of your team members will not only highlight the great work you’re doing, but also bring well-deserved attention to your web shop, as well.

In order to get a response, you rarely need to include more information than the basic details. I like to give as much information as I can without overwhelming someone, but without being vague, too. It drives me NUTS when someone just says, “I have an idea/opportunity to discuss. Let’s set up a time to call.” Never assume that someone has the time/interest in taking a phone call if you don’t have the courtesy to explain what you want to discuss first.

VI. Double Check

Oohh-wee is this an important step. Spell-check and grammar check are wonderfully built in to most email platforms these days, so that saves you a lot of work, but it’s always good to recheck the following:

  • Name spelling
  • Business names (avoid cut and paste errors!)
  • Email addresses
  • Dates/times
  • Your personal contact information (should they need to reach you outside of email)

 

Double checks have saved my behind more times than I can count. When you’re busy and replying to a lot of emails, it’s easy to get the last email subject’s name stuck in your head and mistakenly use it in a new email. If this happens to you like it does to me, do yourself a favor and turn on Google Lab’s “UNSEND” setting for Gmail. It’s my best friend.

VII. Polite Closings

Closings can be deceivingly tricky. A simple, “Thank you for your time, Grace,” is usually the best way to close, but I’ve seen some crazy closings over the past decade of blog emailing. Some people fill their closing with a guilt-induced plea or signatures that go on for lines and lines and lines, and some people decide it’s the place to get cheeky and say things like, “Don’t make me wait too long for a response, yeah?” Just stick to the simple, “Thank you,” with your name. You can never, ever go wrong with that.

VIII. Extra Tips to Keep in Mind Before You Hit Send

  • Be careful with punctuation: Use exclamation points sparingly and for emphasis only when needed. Too many, and it starts to sound like you’re shouting.
  • Mind your file sizes: Ask before attaching large or high-res files. You may clog someone’s inbox quota, so ask first or attach low-res preview images to start.
  • Don’t email when emotional or angry: Too upset to think clearly? Don’t email. Step away from the computer and come back when you can let cooler heads prevail.
  • Don’t be cutesy in professional emails: Lose the emoticons, colored fonts and backgrounds and slang/abbreviations when sending a professional email.
  • Don’t add someone to a newsletter or email without permission: Enough said.
  • Don’t write what you wouldn’t want read back to you in court: Email isn’t confidential and is spread more than you’d think. So be sure anything you write in an email to someone is something you’d be ok having your name attached to.
  • Pick up the phone when things get messy: If you’re sending out email after email arguing or trying to clarify something to someone, just pick up the phone. Email-as-conversation (one of my worst habits) really annoys most people.
  • Avoid signatures that reveal more than is appropriate: I’ve seen some pretty out-there email signatures, and it always surprises me that people are sending business email from something with the phrase “[Name] likes to party like a rock star!”
  • If you’re receiving a mass email, don’t hit “reply all” unless it actually applies to everyone (e.g., change of date/address).

 

IX. Email Tips for Bloggers

A few extra thoughts may come in handy if you’re a blogger dealing with email issues. I’m constantly struggling to keep up with mine and finally accepted that I can only give people my full attention and focus if I sit down twice a week and devote however many hours are necessary to finishing JUST my email. So it means a slower response, but a better one. I try to focus on these as my blogger musts (when it’s possible):

1. Respond in a timely manner: This one is relative to your work load, but I feel like most readers would like a response within 1–2 days. That just isn’t possible for some people, so I think within 5–7 days is fair, especially if you plan to send a personal response and not a bounce-back. That said, a bounce-back that is personalized is a great way to deal with acknowledging someone’s email so they aren’t wondering if it arrived.

I don’t use a bounce-back myself, but I do use Google’s Canned Responses (in the Google Labs section of Gmail) to pre-write responses based on standard email types (submissions, requests for information, etc.). I customize these with the person’s real name and a line about what they’re asking. That way they know I’m working on it and will get back as soon as I can.

2. Don’t fight over email: It just never pays to do this. I convinced myself it was better to take angry comments to email sometimes, but most of the time, it’s best to let it go. If someone writes you a nasty email, the best response is to acknowledge it and move on. You can say “Thank you for sharing your opinion. I’ll take that into account,” and then move on. If they’re a real jerk, just hit delete. Getting into a fight online (and in writing, which someone can post or share online) is never good for business.

3. Be personal: I love having a real name associated with emails rather than something generic like “The Design*Sponge Team.” If I answer an email, I sign it with my name. If Amy answers, it’s from her. Letting people get to know your team is a valuable part of connecting with your readers, so don’t be afraid to be personal and skip the faceless brand technique.

4. Prepare an FAQ or post for common requests/emails: It can be frustrating to answer the same question or request over and over after a few years, so if you find yourself getting to that point, it’s a good sign that you’ve got an in-demand post topic on your hands. Turn that answer into a post somewhere, and then you can easily save that link and basic response as a “Canned Response” in Google and use it as a reply (personalized, ideally) whenever someone asks. Example:

I’d love to know how you got your start and how you built an ad program. Can you give me your advice?

Response: Amy, thanks so much for your email, and congratulations on your new blog. I’d be more than happy to share my thoughts and advice on that topic. I actually wrote a full post on the topic here [insert link] — I hope it will help you get started. Best of luck, Grace

* * *

All these ideas and tips are based on my experience over the past decade of working in a primarily email-based business. I’ve seen people try some crazy things, and I’ve seen people write such wonderful emails that it’s made me stop and really pay attention to their business. Hopefully, these ideas will get the conversation started about what people think is right for them and their business and what they’d like to send/receive themselves. Everyone has different ideas of what makes an ideal email, so I’d love to hear what rules and guidelines you follow and what you’d hope to receive in your inbox. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your feedback. xo, grace

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85 Comments

Lauren

This article is so helpful, Grace! I think it is so easy to forget the common rules of courtesy when using email because it seems very informal, so it’s great to have a checklist of reminders for using email for business.

Joanna

I would never address someone as Mrs.! (And it drives me mad when people address me as such.) Even if you do know someone is married, you don’t know if she took her husband’s name. Ms. is the appropriate neutral equivalent of Mr.

Grace Bonney

Joanna

When I was married I didn’t take my husband’s name, and that didn’t effect whether or not I was Mrs. Mrs. just means married- it doesn’t imply name-taking.

That said, I think Ms. is completely fine and acceptable, too.

Grace

Prêt à Voyager / Anne

I actually get turned off when I get emails that say Dear Ms. Ditmeyer. It seems far too formal. There’s something about being a designer + the online community that I feel much more comfortable when people just address me as Anne… Even in a classroom setting I prefer being addressed by my first name, but maybe that’s just me.

Sarah

Thank you for sharing an example email. Sometimes I’m not so sure how to translate what I’d say in person to what I should write in an email. I like to make the excuse that its a bilingual child syndrome. Ha! (I grew speak two languages at once at home and in everyday life and I had a class for each language at school. Also, my books, homework and classes would be held in one language and the test on another. Ugh!)

Alex Morris at Cartridge Save

Yes yes, e-mails are just so vital, I often don’t even think about it. Very good tips here, I also think dropping any semblance of business spiel is vital. Anything in my mailbox with “at the end of the day” or “what it boils down to” in it almost immediately gets deleted. Some of the spam really is ludicrious!

My main concern is always how to address women; Miss, Mrs, Mz, Ms. I usually plump for Ms. as it seems acceptable. No one has complained yet. It’s so much easier for men you just launch straight into, “O’reet, m8, ‘ows about, ‘ows about, see the game last night, eh? Wicked, innit!”

Sarah

I love this post and this series. It is so easy for all of us, in this era of mass communication, to get sloppy or lazy with email (I’m certainly guilty of this). I know many people feel turned off by email, but whatever your opinions about the medium, it is at the heart of exchanging ideas in the 21st Century and certainly THE form of correspondence for small business. I would add that it is helpful to avoid religiously or politically controversial sign-offs or statements in email (or voicemail), for example “Have a Blessed Day” or “Dyed in the Wool Liberal”. You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) by how often I see this.

Grace Bonney

Anne

That’s a totally good and valid point. I agree, seeing Ms. Bonney sometimes sounds really formal, but after years of getting “Gracie” or “Hey G!” from people who don’t know me, I settled on something more formal being my go-to ;)

Grace

Grace Bonney

Joanna

I see that Emily Post feels that way but I have never heard that or felt it myself. I would never change my name and wouldn’t feel that Mrs. implied I had.

I think that definition (not you) feels pretty outdated. I definitely don’t want to follow any guideline that seems to imply I wouldn’t be given the right of “sounding” or being referred to as married if I actually was, name change or not.

Grace

Courtney

Hi Grace, great post! Normally I wouldn’t even chime in (I’m kind of in the “who cares” camp), but since this IS an etiquette post, I think Joanna is techinically right about the correct way to address a married woman who kept her maiden name. Here’s the Emily Post article (gospel in the south, as you know): http://tinyurl.com/2f69qls.

This subject hits close to home since I also didn’t take my husband’s name. Of course, this never stops my grandmother from addressing her letters to me as Mrs. Courtney Hislastname. :)

Grace Bonney

courtney

lol- isn’t that the worst? i didn’t change my name and my beloved grandmother refused to address anything to me that wasn’t my ex’s last name. drove me nuts ;)

i agree it’s probably proper, but this column is all about modern etiquette and i think that change reflects that.

grace

Faith

This is a great post! One other thing I have noticed a lot lately, especially in the emails of young creative women (the primary people I work with) is a lack of capitalization and punctuation. They dash off these very casual emails, with no capitalization at all, even when discussing professional business.

I am probably just betraying a grumpy English major bias, but this always bugs me. It feels like a way of understating their presence out of shyness or fear of being seen as assertive. Or it’s just laziness – not sure which is worse. Regardless of whether it’s fair, emails like these always lower my respect for the sender and make me subconsciously think they are less trustworthy professionals.

I think there is a real craft to writing emails that express the right tone, and as you said, cutesy doesn’t cut it in most professional spaces. While emoticons and lack of capitalization can feel like shortcuts to expressing warmth or gentleness, I think that they are poor substitutes for gracious confidence expressed in smartly chosen words. (Then still, of course, maybe I am just a punctuation grump.)

M

I teach English abroad and hope you don’t mind if I step into the Mrs./Ms. debate. I always tell my students to avoid Mrs. unless it is specifically requested by said Mrs. (a la Mrs. Clinton’s request to journalists). In my opinion, and in the opinion of many others, it is of no importance whether or not a woman is married, especially in a business context, therefore it is very important to leave her marital status out of how you address her, as with Ms. But, as I said, I realize some women do prefer it.

Cassandra

Love this post! I feel very strongly about email etiquette, so this is great! And I have a quick opinion question for you, Grace… What do you do about emails from strangers (if you ever get them) that just say something like “I’d love to discuss a project idea with you, please call me”, with very little explanation. As a small business owner these emails drive me nuts! I feel like I deserve a little more detail if someone expects a phone call. Or, if they really prefer talking on the phone they should initiate the call. I typically respond that I prefer to correspond via email so that I have a “paper trail” to reference later (which is completely true), but it feels like a cop-out. Emails like this just leave me with the impression that the sender’s time is more valuable than mine and that really gets under my skin. Think I’m overreacting?

Grace Bonney

cassandra

ugh – those are the worst!! i always say that i’d love to hear more about what they have in mind. if they can’t tell me that i say that unfortunately i don’t have the time to schedule calls without more information.

grace

Peaches

Emily Post was a bitter old fart who built a legacy around making the nouveau riche feel inadequate. The sooner we quit looking to her as a guiding light, the better. Let’s work on making each other feel comfortable and welcome as individuals – that’s how I define good manners.

This is a great post, btw. On a subject I deal with everyday. The only thing it doesn’t cover is how to write openers on emails with a middle man, such as an assistant, an anonymous team member so, forth. Those are always awkward. And I don’t think everyone appreciates me opening with “Hey Y’all.”

Amanda

Great post! It took me years to learn what you beautifully summarized in one article. I think big businesses could also learn a lot from your rules for bloggers. However, I am with Joanna. I would never use Mrs. in a professional communication. Whatever it implies about your marriage status or name change, none of that matters in a professional setting.

janika R

Great Post.. I loved that sample mail that you have included in the post.

Thanks for such a great article.

Karen

Thanks Grace, all very useful and thought provoking. Something I always find slightly discomforting is how quickly/easily people start signing off with kisses – (one or two crosses?), I always feel a bit wary of reciprocating in case the professional relationship might get a bit awkward down the line, but then if you don’t reciprocate it doesn’t feel very friendly in this world of modern etiquette! Your xo sign off is refreshing but that’s for the d*s friends community. And by the way, I don’t mind at all being referred to as Mrs but I think if people have an issue with it they need to sign off with Ms in brackets in the end (on a first time email), so at least the recipient is then aware.

Lauren @ A Lovely Lark

I’d love to know how to respond to emails with submissions/requests for product reviews/features for products that you just don’t care for. I always feel guilty, especially if it’s a small Etsy shop or something handmade. I often end up just not responding, but I feel guilty about that as well!

Grace Bonney

hi lauren!

i always say something like this:

Hi Karen,

Thanks so much for taking the time to email your [work description]. Unfortunately, due to the volume of emails we receive, we can’t respond with regrets, but if we have a post planned on your work, we’ll be in touch within 2-3 days. Thanks!

Grace

*If someone follows up I try to be specific (if I can) about why it’s not a good fit. Some people will always be angry no matter what so just try to couch any criticism or negative news in something nice and you’ll be in good shape. (like “We all admired the hard work that went into your ceramics, however they weren’t a good fit for our editorial calendar right now. But we wish you all the best with your new collection.”)

Abbey

Couldn’t agree with your points more, Amy. Thanks for bringing more attention to this!

Pepper

I also have difficulty with emails to “middle men.” I send a lot of emails to academic departments, where people tend to take their titles very seriously. It would be gravely insulting to address a female professor, in a professional context, as Mrs. Smith or Ms. Smith rather than Dr. Smith or Professor Smith.

I often have only the name of a contact person and it is unclear if that person has a title, and sometimes it is also unclear what gender the person is. I end up sending these emails addressed “Dear Jean Smith,” although it feels really awkward. Any solution to these situations?

Sara

Hi- This is my first comment on a website – ever! I love this blog and this post is really interesting. I have been an administrative assistant for over 10 years, so professional emails are a huge part of my life. In my opinion a professional email sent for the first time to a woman who you do not know (who is not a doctor and who has not specifically asked to be addressed as Mrs.) should ALWAYS be addressed to Ms. As Amanda mentioned, marital status or name change has nothing to do with how you should address emails or letters in a professional setting. Ms. is the equivalent to Mr. If you write an email and address the person as Ms. Smith and she responds with a first name sign-off such as Jane, then you may respond subsequently with a first name address. I also think emails should be concise and easy to read and end in a friendly way, such has wishing someone a nice day or a simple thanks!

Leslie

Great post. All this needed to be said! One little nit-pick, though. Dear or Hello should not be separated from the name of the recipient by a comma in the salutation (Dear, Karen). And in American business correspondence, it is acceptable to use a colon after the name, instead of a comma. Thanks for a great blog.

Laura

I’d like to recommend the “Undo Send” google lab as well. It basically gives you about 30 seconds to pull back an email from being sent, and it has been a life-saver. Whether you’re forgot an attachment, want to reword something, or whatever comes up.

The other feature I like to use is Boomerang. I use this on emails I do not want to deal with right away, but don’t want to forget about.

Robin

I love your etiquette series so far! In response to how you address someone you’ve never met before, a lot of other blogs that talk about pitch e-mails actually tell people to go with the Hi [First Name]. I read way too many getting ready for the holiday season last year. Pitching isn’t part of my job anymore, but it was interesting that you said the opposite!

Shannon

To all the commentators on Ms. vs. Mrs. debate: This is, as Grace has said, a post about modern etiquette, and so we should take into account women’s movement and the gendered politics of naming and title conventions. This is not 1950 or 1890; this is 2013. At the end of the day, there is nothing more rude than deciding for other people what you feel their name should be, especially when your evidence is as flimsy as what an anonymous writer for Emily Post thinks is correct. There are very good and very personal reasons a woman might choose to use Ms., Mrs., take their partner’s name, create a new last name, keep their name, or do any combination of the above.

maggie

When emailing someone that I don’t know, I follow a similar format to what this post describes. However, I always find it a little weird when people say their name in their introduction. “Hi, my name is…”. Your name is at the bottom of the email and the recipient probably also read your name before even clicking on the email in the first place. It seems redundant and also strikes me as juvenile.
I also hate the whole ‘Mrs.. Miss, Ms.. Mr.’ thing. It can be quite tricky, especially if all you have is a name, and it’s a gender neutral name. Unless I know someone is a doctor, I usually just say ‘Hi Jordan, …’ Maybe that is too informal, but it’s actually how i’d prefer to be addressed from people that I don’t know (even though I am a doctor). I hate the idea that women have their marital status reflected in their title, but men don’t. Using “Ms.” takes some of that out of the equation, but I feel like it is still there. Maybe I’m just grumpy but I’d prefer informality to gender and marital status based titles.

Sara

In my last job, I basically wrote emails for a living – or that’s sure what it felt like anyway. My biggest rule was to ALWAYS pretend that I had accidentally replied-all. Just never, ever put something in an email that you wouldn’t want read by the entire office or even community/field. Pick up the phone if you have something sensitive to discuss.

Also, I wholeheartedly agree with Grace about picking up the phone to smooth out messy convos/planning. And also to clear up misunderstandings – if the email was confusingly written or if the tone seems snippy or rude, take a moment to cool off, then pick up the phone and be charming. Sometimes people need to remember there’s a nice friendly face on the other end of the exchange. And then of course, remember to summarize the phone convo in a f/u email to crystallize the newfound clarity and so that you both have something to refer back to if necessary!

And on the Mrs./Ms. topic, “Mrs.” feels much more outdated to me than “Ms.” I kept my name, though I don’t really care if people address me with his. However, Mrs Mylastname or Mrs Hislastname just both sound like they’re from another generation. Plus, using “Mrs.” requires that you know something about the person’s marital status, which is often not the case in a professional environment. And one should never assume. So my default is always “Ms.”

Grace Bonney

robin

i think, “Hi, John” is fine if you know him. But if you don’t, I think it can be a tad too informal. Maybe for bloggers (since most bloggers tend to be personal and approachable in their writing) it’s ok, but I would never write an editor I didn’t know from a magazine and say “Hi, Karen” or “Hi, Karen Smith”. It just feels better to say “Hi, Ms. Smith” or something like that.

grace

Meredith

Great post Grace! I think a ton of this can be used in a professional environment whether you are a business owner or not. And I can’t even tell you how pleased I was to see you hammer home the ‘correct spelling of the person’s name’ item. I get emails ALL THE TIME with my name spelled incorrectly, even from people I know and work with on a regular basis. It drives me absolutely crazy, especially because my full first name is part of my email address!!!

LizaM

I just wanted to reiterate Sara’s comment about summarizing phone conversations in writing, particularly when things get “messy.” It is so easy for people who are disagreeing on something to remember phone conversations very differently. A polite call to resolve things goes a long way, but follow up with a “Thank you for taking my call earlier” message that states in writing what the resolution was could really save you a lot of headache later!

Sara

Courtney and Grace,

I have to chime in on the last name/address tangent. I didn’t change my last name either when I got married and my grandmother and husband’s grandmother also address me by his last name! I can’t stand it, but it’s even worse when people my age do it. I have received 3 or 4 pieces of mail from friends in the past year addressed this way. I try not to take it too seriously, but these are from people who are my Facebook friends, who could easily just look at my last name on Facebook first. I get these invites to showers and want to say no, I will not go to your event, you didn’t even give me the respect of figuring out what my last name is. I try to cut the grandmothers a little bit of slack, because *maybe* it just doesn’t occur to that generation that more of us keep our name these days, but when younger generations do it it’s disappointing.

Sarah

Great article! I wish I could send this to a handful of former co-workers who would write e-mails as if they were texting to me. It drove me crazy!

Arielle

Grace,
I just wanted to let you know that any time I’ve emailed you I have been so impressed with your ability to be concise, personal, and polite. Truly mesmerizing!

Thanks for the thought provoking post; I’m getting married in August and haven’t decided if I want to change my name and was just wondering the other day how I should sign my married self with my “maiden” name.

Kate

Fabulous article Grace! I grew up in a family that were/are extremely strict about manners and etiquette. Having a modern take on etiquette is so important, especially when we are constantly facing new forms of communication and business standards. Thank you for creating this series. I have really enjoyed the posts so far.

One of my biggest issues with written communication has to do with spelling names correctly. When someone spells my name wrong (which happens very often!) it makes me feel like they didn’t care enough to look up how my name was actually spelled, and therefore like my time/input is not valued. I always tell my husband that spelling someone’s name correctly is the same as making sure you wrap a gift instead of presenting it to the recipient in the plastic bag you received when purchasing it at the store. It doesn’t have to be fancy or over the top but it conveys the message that that person is special/important/valued because you took the time to present the gift in a thoughtful way. It truly can make all the difference in the world.

Keep up the excellent work!

Joanna C

Great post Grace, thanks!

To Pepper, who mentioned she frequently emails academic departments: I worked in academia in US and Europe, and I’m familiar with the problem your mentioning, of not knowing whether a person has a title. Here’s what I do: First of all, I use good old google. 9 out of 10 times, this person (and their title) will be listed as a paper author, or on an university website. One of 10 times you either won’t find them at all or it will be in a language that google translate can’t deal with. I also look at where this person is from. In US it’s better to address them but their first name than Mr or Ms. In Europe and Asia, addressing a stranger by their first name is considered rude, so you’re better off with Mr/Ms if you don’t know if they have an academic title. I’ve been following these rules for years now, and never had any negative feedback.
Hope this helps a little, but let me know if you disagree.

I also have difficulty with emails to “middle men.” I send a lot of emails to academic departments, where people tend to take their titles very seriously. It would be gravely insulting to address a female professor, in a professional context, as Mrs. Smith or Ms. Smith rather than Dr. Smith or Professor Smith.

I often have only the name of a contact person and it is unclear if that person has a title, and sometimes it is also unclear what gender the person is. I end up sending these emails addressed “Dear Jean Smith,” although it feels really awkward. Any solution to these situations?

Marnie

Hi Grace,
Great article. Thanks for sharing this way of working to everyone one like this. I was happy to realise it’s pretty similar to the way I proceed when writting emails to current/future clients/collaborators.

It’s always nice to read your posts!
Have a great weekend.

Marnie

Sadie

After reading the Emily Post column, I am fascinated to discover that my husband and I can soon be addressed as “The Doctors Lastname”. HAHA. Oh my goodness, how stuffy we’ll sound! I look forward to it enormously.

Sam

This is a great post! I’m new to regularly stalking your site, so I haven’t got a handle on digging up posts from the past. I’m dying to know – where is the post that you talk about how you got your start and built your ad program?

Thank you!

jacquie

I knew I would change my name almost from the get go- I am a traditionalist, I suppose. That said, I have yet to answer to “Mrs. Hislastname” without doing a double take. That woman is my mother in law!

Polina

Hi Grace, thanks a lot for sharing this post with us. While organising design events I often have to send around quite a few emails to my fellow councilors. Sometimes I get responses like “I am actually not at my desk but (and proceeding with the response)…” or “I am not at home at the moment yet…”. Is it wrong to send work-related emails after work hours? And what do you think of people who respond this way?
Thank you!
Polina

Jen

Joanna C, I do the Dear Jean Smith thing when I can’t figure out the gender, too, but I only use that when I exhaust every possible internet check I can do to figure it out.

I am fascinated and a little flabbergasted by the Ms./Mrs. discussion. I always use Ms. or Mr. I would never use Mrs. unless I knew the woman had taken her husband’s last name and wished to be referred to as Mrs. (i.e., my grandmother). Not beccause Emily Post says a woman can’t have that title if she didn’t change her name, but because of Gloria Steinem, Ms. Magazine (that’s why they named it that), and the feminist movement. That was the whole point of women not taking their husband’s last name was so that the female title would be gender neutral like the male, because whether or not she was married was irrelevant to her professional and social status. That she could be a person in her own right deserving of correspondence addressed directly to her, even if she is married. So calling women Mrs. just because they are married doesn’t feel modern to me, it feels like a step backward. When someone refers to me as Mrs. I always think to myself “I’m not married to my father.” I find it mildly annoying but I assume that some professional women would find it offensive, so that’s why I don’t use it, but maybe you have to be in your 40s like me to remember all that, and for younger people it has lost that meaning?

PrussianBlueDay

Thank you for a great post. To add further comment on the subject of sensitivity to how you address a person. My bank 25 years ago refused to allow me to use Ms or just my name. When this occurred I closed the account and went to several banks asking to speak to the manager about opening a bank account and home loans. I was a University lecturer with a good job yet the majority of banks would only consider a loan if a male went guarantor. Finally one Building society manager just called me by my first name as I had introduced myself and asked details about my job and ability to pay. Yes there and then I opened up an account, within a year took out a home loan. Moral of my story is address a person as they indicate or request.

Ashley Johnson

Grace,

I feel there are so many comments already that mine is not needed, but I have been anxiously awaiting this post and have to say something.

Mainly, THANK YOU. I have forwarded the link to family members (who will not be offended and need some MAJOR email etiquette coaching). It is great advice, and I find most emails I receive to be completely atrocious.
This week’s column is going to make a difference, and I will keep it on hand for reference myself.

Ashley

PS- I find it very comical that this has almost turned into a Ms., Mrs. debate which I am certain you did not intend :)

Jane

Hello Grace,

That comma in the greeting sounds a bit awkward to me too, as if you have to take a little breath between the Hello and the Grace. Over-punctuation can be just as annoying as none. I also hate it when ‘you are’ is abbreviated to ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’. Great post for pedants!

Jane

Rachel Fackender

Absolutely loved reading this post, Grace. Thank you for sharing your insight – we see things very similarly but I was excited to take a few new things away from this. Even with close friends, I still find myself keeping email etiquette in mind, it just comes so natural now!

Mary Arnold

Only one thing to add and it’s possibly a very British thing – when I’m emailing a company (particularly to a generic email taken from a website such as ‘customerservices@website.com’) I tend to begin with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ as you would in a proper letter, and then for sure go on to introduce myself/my organisation.
However if it’s a contact that’s been personally passed to me but the name is not given I usually just start with “Hi”
Also worth noting that if someone has passed you a contact it’s usually worth mentioning “John Smith gave me your email and said you would be a good person to contact about x”; otherwise people who keep their email quite private might be alarmed at their new stalker!

seema

Grace, Terrific post and advice. It’s interesting, I’ve never thought of using Ms. or Mrs. Smith. The informality of email leads me to using first names.
That said, from all the email contact I’ve had with bloggers, I’ve always felt that Design Sponge is one of the most professional and appropriate in replies. Even though I have not been featured, I’ve never been upset because your replies and messaging are well worded, specific and clear. Thanks!

Andrea Raisfeld

Thanks for this posting. I have a pet peeve about people who use reply all when there is no other apparent reason than showing everyone else how effusive or gushing you are to the sender. It happens a lot with invitations and with emails to teachers. The respondents fall all over themselves to show how super-excited or appreciative they are to the sender, and it just clogs everyone else’s inbox with an email they have no reason to be privy to. Thanks for letting me get this off my chest!

Jennifer

Hello Grace, Thanks for a great post! I am a first time commenter, but I love the blog. I have a question about email timing. I run my own business and also stay at home with my two little ones, so I am frequently working evenings and weekends. With the works being attached to their email via smart phone 24/7, would you suggest only sending emails during “regular” work hours? I usually compose my email drafts at my convenience and them send them when I think it would be convenient for the recipient, i.e. during the work day. What do you think?

kim

Having been on the sending end of submissions to blogs I’m always so impressed and also grateful when someone takes the time to respond, even if your project is rejected it’s so much nicer ..you don’t feel like a big clueless, dork .
And , for the record, since this is now the hijacked Ms. Mrs. thread I don’t mind answering to either title – life is too short.

LA Lady

While this isn’t necessarily an etiquette tip, I’ve added email privacy disclaimers to my business emails. There’s a lot of sketchy rules when it comes to public vs private information. If I’m discussing anything remotely private, I add a quick “intended for recipient only…” disclaimer at the bottom after my (short) signature.

Grace Bonney

hi jennifer!

you’re a busy women- i would send emails when it’s convenient for you. boomerang is a great app to automate that process that you’re already doing manually (drafting and then sending later). but i think what you’re doing sounds great :)

grace

Grace Bonney

jen

i’m 31 and for me, i don’t think mrs. has that meaning to me anymore. but it’s clear that people still feel strongly about it, so it may be up to everyone to see what feels most comfortable to them ;)

grace

margarita

Great post as usual and very helpful. I know I keep making mistakes and that my grammar is not correct but I try my best and I keep improving. This post will be very useful as a reminder of how to do things well, although each of us has a different style and way of saying things, there are general rules that should be follow, yes I agree on that.

victoria

grace, do you answer every single email? I am trying but sometimes I just feel so overwhelmed by it all. would love your take on that bit of the email equation. I really want to be gracious but sometimes the requests are so far from my area of expertise I just don’t even know where to begin.

Sarita Rajiv

This is a wonderful post Grace and very timely for me. Sometimes, I struggle with writing emails to complete strangers. Your tips are useful though I would probably avoid using a Mrs. or Mr. salutation unless the person insists on being called so.

Having received a reply from you and Amy, I know from experience that at Design Sponge practice what you preach:-)

Grace Bonney

hi victoria,

amy and i manage the d*s submissions email, and between the two of us we answer every personalized email we get. that means we don’t reply to mass emails, etc. i think if someone takes the time to send an email that was clearly thoughtful and addresses an individual or at least our correct business name, it’s worth the time and effort to respond. that said, sometimes it takes me a week (or more if i’ve had a crazy work stretch) to get to every email. i don’t reply with regrets to emails though- i have a standard response that explains that and how we’ll respond within a week after the initial email if we DO have a post planned on something.

re: questions outside my range of expertise, i answer them in terms of responding, but if i don’t know or can’t help i politely explain just that- that i’m not the best person to answer. if i can suggest someone else i will, but sometimes it’s just not something i can help with so i think it’s ok to say that and move on. :)

grace :)

Louisa

I hate it when people spell my name wrong! If they’ve managed to get my name right in the email address, then it’s not too hard to write it correctly again! That said, I’ve had people call up in places I’ve worked before telling me my email wasn’t working when they’ve just spelt it wrong – we used to joke that anything sent to my name spelt wrong, should get an auto-reply telling them to spell it correctly!

One thing I would add is to be very mindfull of the language abilities of the person you are emailing. I do a lot of work with China, and you have to be very careful how emails are worded. It’s worth bearing in mind if you are emailing someone who is not a native English speaker, that colloquialisms may not be understood, and punctuation can make a lot of difference! I email people in China quite a lot and hate it when I see my colleagues using phrases that I know they won’t understand. It doesn’t take much to bear in mind that if the person you are emailing is from a completely different culture then you need to pay attention to how you phrase your email!

jessvii

I wanted to weigh in on the Ms. / Mrs. debate as someone who has changed her last name.

First, I agree with the posters who have said that you should refer to the woman by whatever she refers to herself as. If she signs her emails “Mrs. Smith”, use Mrs. And if you don’t know, going with Ms. is the safer choice. This is also true if you speak with an older woman on the phone – do not assume that you can use Mrs. based on her age.

However, I also wanted to say that I take pride in being a Mrs., and I fear that the Mrs. title will disappear entirely from use over time. I like being referred to as Mrs. If it’s really a matter of a woman’s choice, then my choice to use it matters just as much as the choice of other women to shun the title. It was a difficult ordeal to change my last name – I had to change my credit cards, driver’s license, work records, and other accounts. Sometimes, it was easier to close an account entirely because the process was so cumbersome.

To summarize, live and let live. Address women by Ms. if you don’t know their status, but use Mrs. if the woman requests it or addresses herself as such.

Miranda Maher

I have corresponded with many people I don’t know –on paper and in email– when submitting my portfolio for review by curators. I noticed a few years ago a trend of using “Dear Miranda Maher,” when we didn’t know each other. I’ve always thought it felt awkward, but I do appreciate it’s formal neutrality — no Ms. or Mrs or Mr. chosen. It’s also a solution when corresponding with people from different countries, when their gender is not apparent (to us) from their first name.

I think I’m older than the average D*S reader, so Mrs. Post doesn’t bother me, though I’ve always preferred Miss Manners. (Miss? That one has thankfully disappeared). I also was around in the 1970s when “Mrs. vs. Ms.” was loaded with politics, and signified a lot more than choice of last name. Maybe because of that (and because I interact with many people my own age who share that experience), I never refer to someone as “Mrs.” unless they let me know they prefer it.

I’m not really offering any of this as “the way” to do anything. It’s just interesting to hear the different perspectives and thought I would chime in with mine.

And — thank you Grace. Yet another fabulous post from my favorite blog.

Karen judge

Good reminders all, it’s sooo easy to be overly informal with email. Now I’m wondering who I’ve offended lately…

Victoria Smith

thanks grace. this helps put it in perspective for me. i usually respond within a week too, but it’s helpful to know about the ‘regrets’ – i need a better system. i’m working towards the ‘zero inbox’ system as best i can! :)

Grace Bonney

Koliti

If it’s someone above you, in terms of a boss or manager, I’d avoid bringing that up. That said, if it really is a problem, I’d suggest saying something like, “Hi Karen- I noticed in your emails you’re using abbreviations that I’m afraid I’m not familiar with. Would you be able to use the full words so I make sure I get all the details of your instructions correct?”. But if it’s something simple that you can’t really explain that with, I’d probably just let it go. You can choose to respond with YOUR emails in a professional tone and hopefully she will follow suit.

Grace

Mrs. Brinson

I. Love. This. Post.

Email is often overlooked for tone of voice and assumptions that the reader knows certain details. It is so critical to compose a clear message. We have a little rule for emotional emails (the ones where you anger type). Get a buddy and have them tone check you.

Grace, thank you so much for writing this post.

Jade

Love this article, I think we all need a bit of a refresher course in etiquette every now and then. I used to work with a girl that emailed “Dearest so and so” – for every email, it sent me batty and I mentioned it to her that she needn’t be so polite that just “Hi so and so” would be more than enough… she continued with the dearest and ended it with “Yours” which I personally think is WAY to intimate for work.

ruby

“Mind your file sizes: Ask before attaching large or high-res files. You may clog someone’s inbox quota, so ask first or attack low-res preview images to start.”
You mean attach? :)

Modern Country Lady

I love these Modern Etiquette posts.Now I also know why you emailed me ” Thanks so much for taking the time to email your project/ makeover/before-after. Unfortunately, due to the volume of emails we receive, we can’t respond with regrets “, :-)).Only joking .
Mind you it all makes sense to me what you are saying here, and the bottom line is that it is important in a changing world to have some manners and guide lines.Lovely post and lovely comments!!

Erin @ The Great Indoors

I can’t agree enough with proofreading, proofreading, proofreading. I always read through my emails several times to make sure I’m making the point I intended. And I learned from a previous boss to use exclamation points sparingly– something I think most people in our generation don’t quite understand.

Suzanne

As someone who writes and receives a lot of email, I still found your article very helpful. A refresher never hurts. I was surprised to read that one should allow up to a week for a reply. That seems rude, and I’d like to go on the record as being against that. In business, I try to treat an email like a phone call. I’d never wait a week to call someone back!

Karen Walters

This is a comprehensive list of tips to improve communicating via email. I think that the most important ideas to remember are to keep emails clear and to the point. Experts agree that your e-mail behavior has the potential to sabotage your reputation both personally and professionally.

Victoria

Hi, I´m from Mexico and have been recently doing business with company in San Francisco, your post was very useful to me because email etiquette in my country is very different from yours.
Thank you for this.

Bradford

Grace, this is a helpful guide for people. One thing, I think it is silly to write “my name is…” in an email. That’s really a phone call greeting. In an email, your name has preceded the body of the email and is visible everywhere. Cheers.

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