What is Email Etiquette? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Email Etiquette for All of Us
  • 0:28 Understanding the Written Word
  • 0:48 Style & Tone
  • 1:41 Formatting
  • 3:05 Social & Professional Rules
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
Email, or electronic mail, is a standard part of our personal and professional lives nowadays. There are many ways to write an email, but by using email etiquette we can avoid confusion, lost opportunities and miscommunication.

Email Etiquette For All of Us

Nearly all of us are familiar with email, and most of us use it daily for both personal and professional reasons. Like letter-writing of not so long ago, there is an accepted etiquette, or set of conventional rules, that help us avoid confusion and misunderstandings. Even if you have been writing emails since a very young age, there is standard email etiquette that is necessary for both personal and professional use.

Understanding the Written Word

It is important to remember that email is a written form of communication. Expressions and body language that we use in oral communication are not accessible in emails. While it is possible to add a smiley face, this is considered unprofessional in the work setting. Being clear, polite, and concise works best when drafting emails.

Style and Tone

The biggest complaint of many professional managers is that emails are too wordy. Remember to get and stick to the point. Always consider the audience for your email. Is it your boss or your friend? Just like in real life, consider the language and tone of your email. Email is not the forum for topics you wouldn't discuss in real life.

Always consider that once an email is sent, it cannot be retrieved. When writing an angry email, consider the consequences not only for you but for the intended recipient. Most of us wouldn't go and complain to our boss that a colleague took an extra 10 minutes for lunch, but as the email is a written form of communication with a delayed response time, it might seem appropriate to complain in an email when it may not be. If you must write an angry email, write it as a draft, wait overnight and revisit it in the morning. Then, make a decision on whether to send the message.


Using full sentences and correct grammar are important in email etiquette. While you are trying to get to the point, incorrect language usage will diminish your point and make you appear unconcerned or uneducated.

Using small or capital letters only, emojis, bold, different colors and many fonts looks immature and may provoke an unintended response. Save bold and capital letters for banners to parties. In an email, it will almost certainly produce a negative, strong reaction in the recipient. Using dear, a closing, signing your name and thanks always work. As an example, let's look at an email from Barb to her colleague John.

An email from Barb to John:

I can't believe how much work is left. You really need to PICK UP THE PACE if we are going to finish!

In this example, there is no greeting, and a demand almost certainly cause a negative reaction.

If Barb rephrased the email and used correct email etiquette, it might accomplish more, like this:

Dear John,

Thank you for your assistance today with the files. It was very appreciated. I hope we can finish the rest tomorrow.

Kind regards,


It is important to be sincere in your emails. If Barb's intention was to be passive-aggressive and criticize John for not assisting with the files and to show how angry she was, that will also be translated through an email. The written word can be understood in many ways.

Take that, John!

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