Ask an expert: The basics of email etiquette at the office

What to do and not to do before clicking "send."

You understand that you need to structure your professional emails differently than you would a text or a tweet. But unless you’ve had the good fortune of taking Email Etiquette 101, you might be unsure of what you should and shouldn’t do before clicking "send."

Use clear subject lines. An email’s subject line is usually an afterthought. Use keywords to craft a short description of why you’re emailing. For example: "Team meeting today at 3 p.m. in conference room," or "Deadline on Smith project?"

Avoid using the BCC feature. If you BCC John, he’ll see what you sent, but the email’s other recipients won’t know that John was included. Unless you’re specifically instructed to BCC certain people, don’t do it — it can often be construed as dishonest. If people find out that John was BCC’d, they may feel you were allowing him to spy on a closed conversation.

Watch your tone. Avoid using an overly familiar or informal tone, unless you’ve learned that a relaxed writing style is preferred within the organization. (This includes using proper grammar and avoiding abbreviations such as "u," "btw," "thnx" and "lol.")

Reply to the right people. Say your supervisor emails the whole department and asks for the previous month’s billing for a certain client. In this situation, every one of your coworkers doesn’t need to know how many hours you spent on the project, so it would make sense to avoid clicking "reply all."

Know when email isn’t best. Yes, email may be convenient and efficient, but if a subject is controversial, complex or easily misunderstood, it’s usually best resolved in real time. If a client is confused about a report, call him or her. If you have concerns about a client’s possibly unethical behaviour, schedule a meeting with your boss.

About the Author

Ben Carpenter

Ben Carpenter is the author of

The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Choose a Career, Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Manage Your Money, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life (

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