Email etiquette

Email etiquette

By Rachel Segal Hamilton IdeasTap 22/01/14

Back when people wrote letters, there were rules. But, in the age of email, all that has gone out the Windows. Our guide to the important questions – like whether to write “Dear” or “Yo” and how many kisses to sign off with...

In the beginning... 

How to start? In personal correspondence, I favour a 90s Hip Hop era “Yo!” But apparently this isn’t always appropriate at work

Instead, I go for the bog standard “Hi”, despite having been advised against it by a journalism teacher who deemed it overfamiliar. “Dear”, the other obvious option, feels too formal. “Hello” teeters on the line between chummy and creepy and “Hey”, although I find myself using it more and more, comes across a bit Disney World Florida.

Once you’ve navigated the tricky terrain of how to address the individual or organisation you’re emailing, write their name – and spell it correctly. “Hi Rachael Seagull, I’d love to write an article for IdeasMap...” will make me laugh but it will also make me think you slightly can’t be arsed.


The content

I know we’re all artists here, but email, in a professional context, isn’t a form of self-expression, it’s a form of communication. 

As a clever person once told me, “The meaning of communication is the result it produces.” Think about what you want your email to achieve. Perhaps you simply want to convey some information; maybe you hope the recipient will take some form of action. Is this apparent from what you’ve written? 

Keep it clear and as short as possible. No-one wants to receive a philosophical treatise parading as an email. If you do have a lot to say, break it up using hyperlinks, line breaks, bolding and bullet points.


Signing off 

You know where you are with a letter: yours sincerely if you know the person and yours faithfully if you don’t. When it comes to email, it’s less clear. 

Best wishes? All the best? Best? Best regards? Regards? Kind regards? Warm regards? Warmest regards? Cheers? Thanks? Many thanks? It’s all quite subjective. Do what you like – but be warned, everyone has one email sign-off that makes them irrationally irate. And if you’re unlucky, it’ll be yours. 

As for kisses, don’t be a prude. Put a little x if they do first, maybe two, but probably not more than that. You don’t want them to get the wrong idea.


Subject lines

Make it intriguing – so they want to open it – but descriptive so that they aren’t disappointed when they do. Oh, and avoid anything that sounds spammy. So don’t write, “Can you help?” and don’t include any £ signs.



When people first started getting iPhones and I was still rocking a Nokia 3210, I’d take any email that concluded with the words, “Sent from my iPhone” as a smug dig at my own iPhonelessness. I’ve got over that now. Remember, though, your signature goes to everyone so if you customise it with something quirky – “Sent from my iPhone while riding my fixie and scratching my bum so apols for the typos lol” – some people might think you’re a bit silly.


Multiple recipients 

Don’t CC people in unnecessarily. If you’re emailing a big group, don’t forget to use BCC. It’s a massive data protection faux pas. Don’t be that person who hits “reply all” to group emails. Don’t copy and paste the same email to another recipient. You might forget to change important details, like their name. Two words: Mail Merge


Maybe don’t bother

Each email you send equates to a portion of someone’s time; time that could be spent perfecting their trapeze act, building a community garden or eating jam doughnuts. So consider carefully whether you actually need to send it. If you do, fine. But sometimes picking up the phone is quicker. 


What are your email dos and don’ts? Let us know in a comment below!

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Image by smilla4, on a Creative Commons license. 

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