Work + Growth

Email Etiquette—Have You Been Doing It Right?

  • Make sure all language is appropriate—and be careful with humor
  • Double check EVERYTHING, including spelling and the recipient’s address
  • Be polite; respond promptly and make sure your subject lines are descriptive

We’ve all been there: We’ve sent an email to the wrong person, made an embarrassing typo, completely flubbed a joke, or been scolded for a late response.

In this modern age, email etiquette is just as important as letter-writing etiquette once was, and as such, you need to make sure you’re crafting professional, helpful, and thorough emails so that nobody ever needs to take you to task about your email practices ever again. From good subject lines to double and triple checking to keeping everything SFW, here are all the tips you need to straighten up your email etiquette (and make sure you’ve been doing it right up until now).

Appropriate Language, Including Humor

You might be a funny, off-the-cuff person at home or at your weekly after-work happy hour, but when you’re emailing a group of partners and associates, you want to make sure you always strike the right tone. If you’re not careful, your language or approach could come off as too casual or blasé, which might paint you in a bad light to your superiors and give you a reputation you don’t want or deserve. Avoid casual language and make sure everything is professional as possible; thank them for their time, consider sign-offs like “best” or “regards,” and address whomever you’re emailing clearly and directly. If you’re the office jokester, you don’t have to shy away from jokes completely, but be super careful—if you don’t express it in the right way, it could be at best awkward and at worst offensive.

Have you received an inappropriate work email? Have you been the sender? What were the consequences?


Gmail might have an “unsend” function these days, but whether you have access to it or not, it’s still imperative to get into the habit of double and triple checking every aspect of your email before you hit send. Start by checking your spelling and grammar to avoid embarrassing typos, like using “your” when you meant to use “you’re.” After that, make sure you’re sending the email to the right person, or you could not only have an embarrassing situation on your hands, but l end up delaying the email and not getting your colleague what they need for their latest case. Finally, if you say you attached something, don’t forget to actually attach it! We’ve all had to ask someone to re-send an email for just that reason, and it’s an easily preventable slip-up.

Don’t Write What You Wouldn’t Say Out Loud

This seems obvious, but it must be said: Don’t say anything rude, offensive, disparaging, or just generally mean in your work emails. Even if you need to vent, don’t let it sit on the office server where it’s just waiting to get you in trouble. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t say it out loud at work, then don’t say it in writing, either. It’s all too common for people to get caught sending emails like this to each other, and if you do it, you’ll likely end up getting reprimanded—at the very least. Depending on how egregious the offensive comment, your thoughtless words could cost you your job.

Be Polite

The word “etiquette” should be a dead giveaway where politeness is concerned, but beyond keeping your language kind, courteous, and professional, there are other ways to stay as polite as possible over email. Keep your subject lines informative and descriptive so that the recipient can easily find it when they need it; it’s beyond frustrating to have a million emails titled “briefs” or “updates,” and your busy fellow lawyers will be irritated if they have to go through each one. Also, make sure you’re responding to emails in a timely manner—someone took time out of their workday to send you an email and likely needs your help with something, so be respectful and don’t leave them hanging or force them to chase you down.


What's Next

Over the next week, take an extra moment to go over your emails and make sure they are up to par. Are your subject lines clear and informative? Did you proofread and use spellcheck? Is your language polite as well as clear?  Do you need to improve in any area?