Concise, not curt
The first rule of courtesy which young learn in kindergarten still holds true. Mind you Ps and Qs even on email don’t hesitate to use please when you require a favor and to thank people after if don’t want to come across as bossy ungrateful or demanding.
When writing an email, walking the tightrope between brevity and expressiveness is often challenging. Many fall prey to common mistake of rambling on endlessly. Business communication should be crisp and clear. Say what you must directly. Long confused emails often go unread or are not taken seriously.
At the same time getting to the point too quickly can be considered rude. Do spend a sentence or two on the social niceties. Remember, it is possible to be concise without being downright curt. If you are emailing someone for the first time, do introduce yourself. For others whom you email occasionally insert a sentence asking about the other person’s affairs. General social rules of politeness are still golden.
The devil is in the details. Incorrect spellings and poor grammar are a definite no-no in business communication. Bad spellings create a very negative impression of the sender. If the sender cannot even spell basic words correctly how can he /she be entrusted with larger tasks? Further incorrect grammar can also mean that the email is misunderstood by the receiver. The solution is simple. Always perform a spell check on emails before sending them. Proofreading (once, or multiple times depending on the importance of the email) is also a must.
Cases form an important but often overlooked aspect of email etiquette. Typing an email in all uppercase letters is often considered offensive akin to shouting in real life. Conversely, using only lowercase letters makes it seem like you are muttering and mumbling or are not confident about what you have to say. Further, do pay attention to capitalization of names of the persons you are corresponding with. Failure to do this may be misinterpreted as disrespect.
Abbreviations are also better left to casual online chats. For formal business mails, they are grossly inappropriate. If you want to create the impression of being a dependable and conscientious worker, spelling like a teenager won’t help.
The trouble with online communications is that it does not adequately communicate tones. Tones are a grey area as far as email correspondence goes. Consequently statements can be easily misinterpreted and lead to misunderstandings. It is hence important to be acutely aware of the tone of your email. Read it several times, get a second opinion if you must. Reword sentences so even demands seem to come across as polite requests.
Emotions (those tiny smiley faces that convey emotions) have gained popularity but think twice before using them in business correspondence. While they do help overcome the tone problem, they can create a rather informal atmosphere. This may not go down well with a prospective employer or a superior.
Don’t try and get overfriendly either. Maintain a dignified yet approachable relationship. Humor is a questionable area. For starters you may want to avoid humor especially the type which may be wrong interpreted when read. Remember that different people have different yardsticks to measure humor. Anything even slightly vulgar or offensive should never be sent in a business email.
Even after repeated emailing you do not have the liberty to cash in on the familiarity. Stick to full names and appropriate titles and you will be fine. It is appropriate to switch to first name basis if the person concerned signs off emails with his/her name. Also, avoid using nicknames for example. It may ruffle some feathers if the concerned person feels you are crossing professional boundaries.