The Email Rules You Should Be Following

There are few modern-day dilemmas quite as vexing as handling email etiquette. Although email has become the main source of workplace dialogue, not everyone excels at it, and mastering the finer details can be something of a complex task.  

How does one show authority without being abrasive? Is there anything that automatically disqualifies you from getting that job interview or business pitch?  And, one of the most contentious: How do you strike a balance between being friendly and professional?   

To help you navigate your digital reality, we’ve tapped some of the most successful people in the fashion and business worlds for their expert advice, and identified seven essential factors to consider before you hit "send." Behold, your definitive guide to becoming an email pro — or at the very least, avoiding any major landmines.      
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

Include A Concise Subject Line

With social media notifications, daily deals, and newsletters permeating inboxes non-stop, first impressions count more than ever. What does it take to get someone to actually read your email, rather than disposing of it along with all those Facebook notifications received overnight? KCD’s fashion PR maven, Ed Filipowski (who receives around 300 emails per day), asserts that a subject line should always be clear and specific. His advice on what not to do? “Absolutely do not leave it empty,” he says.  Similarly, media entrepreneur Arianna Huffington advises to always strive for concise wording when making an approach.   

Crafting a succinct and engaging subject line that's tailored to the recipient and your objective (e.g. ‘Beauty Expert Seeking Role at M.A.C.’) is more likely to increase your response rate.  And, as with all communication, ensure you double-check your spelling; even a minor typo could have your inquiry directed straight to the trash. 

Choose The Right Salutation
Salutations should be tailored to your recipient. HL Group’s founding partner, Lynn Tesoro, asserts that knowing your audience is crucial for determining the level of formality required. "I tend to be less formal with a colleague or a friend, but when it comes to a client or someone from the media, the traditional ‘Dear [First Name]' is best," she says. While ‘Hi, [First Name]’ will suit some emails, ‘Good morning / afternoon, [First Name]’ is more appropriate for others.

Barneys’ EVP of marketing and communications, Charlotte Blechman, attributes increased informality in email salutations to social media. The way you greet someone on Messenger shouldn’t necessarily flow into your work emails (unless the person you're writing to is genuinely a friend). Her mantra? “I would recommend erring on the side of formal to maintain an appropriate level of professionalism.”      

Strike The Right Tone
The absence of vocal interaction and facial expressions in email can easily cause your message to be misconstrued. Fashion designer Karen Walker points out that email is a dangerous place for irony. “Don’t assume that the tone that’s in your head as you write will come through on the screen,” she advises.

Many emails, particularly those regarding delegating, reinforcing a deadline, or dealing with a delicate situation can leave you fraught with indecision. And, the reality is, nobody wants to come across as a passive-aggressive sociopath.

Tesoro’s strategy for crafting sensitive emails is to draft and save the copy and revisit it with fresh eyes a bit later to check the tone. Having a second opinion can also be invaluable for ensuring the message is delivered in a professional, non-confrontational manner.

Filipowski believes that “emails should match your personality and the way you would have real conversations.” An insightful perspective — after all, our tone is a reflection of who we are, and can add to or detract from our reputations with the click of a mouse.       

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
What Your Sign-Off Really Says (& What To Strictly Avoid) 
Striking a balance is key. Excessive use of XOs could place you on H.R.’s radar, while ‘Take it easy’ could be perceived as dismissive. Likewise, text-speak such as ‘Thx' or ‘L8Rs’ (if we’re really scraping the barrel) is an absolute no-go. 

Endearments should generally be limited in work emails to ensure a certain degree of professionalism. Excessive punctuation, abbreviations, and emojis should be reserved for your personal communications to avoid causing any potential offense (yes, that winky face could lead to a whole new world of tension).

BPCM’s founding partner Vanessa Bismarck has some sound advice for maintaining politeness in email sign-offs. Firstly, “basic manners apply.” Despite how busy you may be, including a simple ‘Thanks,’ ‘Best,’ or ‘Kind regards’ is imperative. Secondly, “Customized signatures that apologize for brevity can be quite helpful to avoid offending readers.” This is particularly relevant for people who are often working on the go (here’s looking at you, Fashion Month community).      
Beware Of Hitting 'Reply-All’
Sometimes it’s important for multiple people to be copied across certain information, but being a silent observer in a prolonged game of email ping-pong can be downright irritating. Arianna Huffington asserts that, “CC’ing more people does not make your email any more important — it only increases the chances you’ll have one of those never-ending chains that is impossible to shut down.”

There's also the issue of privacy. Karen Walker is a not a fan of CC’ing en masse, nor having her details shared with 50 other people (and rightly so). Another concern for her is CC’ing people later in the conversation. “You have to scroll down to ensure there’s nothing you wouldn’t want new recipients to read.” Adding newcomers into the chain could undoubtedly cause all kinds of chaos.

Before you load up the CC line, consider whether every recipient actually needs to be involved in the conversation. Otherwise, provide a summary and action points once details are confirmed.  

When To Start A New Chain

Email chains are useful for referring to previous correspondence and allowing recipients to familiarize themselves with the details. But, how long is too long?  In some instances, 30 to 40 exchanges occur before a fresh thread is started. While this approach may be convenient for some, the context of the discussion will undoubtedly have evolved over time, and new perspectives and priorities will be in place. A fresh chain can be useful to present a new direction and ensure everyone is on the same page and not referencing old information.

Another consideration with email chains is composition. Forwarding on a drawn-out chain and simply typing ‘FYI’ without a summary or explanation is not particularly considerate as it takes time for the recipient to piece the puzzle together. Providing a summary with key messages in a new thread is the best way to update colleagues and partners on progress.      

Determining An Appropriate Response Time
Research shows that 34% of academics and those in creative industries felt obliged to respond instantly, a further 28% were motivated by constant e-contact and 38% were relaxed and would happily wait a week to respond. In the age of instant everything, what is considered an acceptable response time? The urgency depends on the nature of the email. If you can’t provide an informed response within an hour or so, show courtesy to the sender and advise them that you will reply within a certain timeframe.

Karen Walker points out that as most people now have iPads, iPhones, and Wi-Fi virtually everywhere, “your office is in your hand at all times.” With that in mind, acknowledging receipt of an email shortly after it’s sent is entirely achievable (provided you’re not in meetings or at an event — which leads to another etiquette conversation). 

The general consensus across all experts interviewed for this article was to respond in a timely manner, with 24 hours being the maximum limit. Alternatively, a quick phone call rather than email never hurts.    

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