E-Mail Writing 101: Simple Rules to Remember

It’s been a long time since I posted an informative article on my blog, so I decided to come up with one. Just recently, I was asked to write about e-mail writing rules that are usually taken for granted, and I realized that those were, indeed, great pieces of information I ought to share with everyone else. And since that article was done under my ghostwriting service, I cannot share it. So I decided to rewrite it and share it here in my blog.


With the advancement of technology today, we send and receive e-mails almost on a daily basis—be it for professional or personal use. We send e-mails to our families and friends, to inquire on certain products and services we are interested in, and to communicate with our colleagues and/or bosses. But the sad truth is that most people are not aware that there are rules to follow when writing e-mails as much as there are in technical writing. Here are some common rules that we need to observe when writing e-mails.

  1. Use the right words. We use the “right words” with the readers in mind. Make sure that the words you use are appropriate to the level of your readers and are easily understandable. When writing to people who practice in other fields of profession, make sure to use minimal or no jargon as possible. Keep in mind that when writing an e-mail, we want to convey our ideas in the best, fastest, and simplest way possible. Nobody has all the time in the world to look for the meaning of a word they do not understand. Be polite and use the right words.
  2. Practice the five Cs of writing. In traditional business writing, we are encouraged to be clear, complete, concise, courteous, and correct. The same is true to writing e-mails. Our e-mail should not have any ambiguous or inconsistent information (clear), no incomplete information that readers’ follow-up questions are not necessary or only minimum (complete), not too long but short enough to keep the recipients well informed and interested (concise), no informal language and is reader-oriented (courteous), no errors in detail, grammar, spelling (especially with people’s and businesses’ names), punctuation, etc. (correct).
  3. Observe proper capitalization and punctuation. Write in sentence style capitalization—that is, capitalize the first letter of the sentence and any other proper nouns in it. Do not write in all capitals as it gives the impression that you are angry. Writing in all lowercased letters is rather informal, let alone unprofessional and childish and/or uneducated—even children are taught to write in sentence style capitalizations. Also observe the proper use of terminal punctuations—that is the punctuation that ends your sentence. Use a period for declarative and/or imperative sentences, question mark for inquiries, and exclamation point for emphasized emotions. Never use two or more terminal punctuations. Contrary to common practice, the use of interrobang (?! or !?) should not be observed; either the question mark or the exclamation point would suffice. Also, use commas, semicolons, and other punctuations where appropriate.
  4. Use the appropriate font size, style, and color. Whether personal or business e-mail, it is best to observe a decent typeset. Avoid using wacky or informal fonts like Comic Sans, Jokerman, Chiller, etc. Common fonts used in formal writing include Times New Roman, Courier New, Tahoma, Verdana, Calibri, and Arial. Also, stick to the acceptable font size—10 pt to 12 pt for the body, and 14 pt to 16 pt for the headings. For the colors, it is best to stick with black (automatic), unless you work in a company that represents their presence using colors (Regus International for example uses blue fonts in their body).
  5. CC vs BCC Notation. CC means carbon copy notation. Use this notation when you wish to inform someone that there are others who received the same e-mail. This is usually done to inform superiors that their subordinate received an e-mail. BCC means for blind carbon copy. Using this notation allows you to send copies of the e-mail to other recipients without the original or intended recipient knowing it. Other than that, BCCs are also used to avoid overcrowding the recipient bar of the e-mail since the names of people under the BCC notation are not visible to other recipients. When sending more than one copy of the letter, choose which notation is more appropriate and use it. Do not fill the “to:” bar with all the recipients as it will cause overcrowding of e-mail window of all the recipients’ names. However, there are instances when filling “to:” would be appropriate; one would be if all the recipients are equally intended to receive the e-mail, or addressed to everyone, not just a single recipient.
  6. Do not leave the subject line blank. It is a common courtesy to fill in the subject line. This will help you get the attention of your recipient, and at the same time, it will help them sort your e-mail among their priorities. When filling it out, do not just write anything. Write the the main reason why you are writing or what your e-mail is about in the shortest way possible without sacrificing the idea. Example of strong subject lines include “Hotel Booking Inquiry,” “August 25 Event Schedule,” “Upcoming Office Tea Party.” Do not just write “Important please read” or “Urgent.”
  7. Attachment etiquette. When planning to attach files, do it at the minimum. Why? Attaching too many files in an e-mail can slow down the process of sending and retrieving the e-mail from the server; thus, your recipient will have a hard time loading it. Also, downloading a great number of attachments can be a big trouble. Of you are planning to send a file that you think is big enough, try uploading it in any file sharing site like DropBox and simply provide the link to your recipient. In the same way, you get to have a personal backup of your file and you do not have to wait for any attachment process of the e-mail. But when you do so, make sure that that file sharing system you use offers public access—no log in or sign up required, because nobody has the time for that.
  8. Inform your recipients whether or not your message needs a response.  This is a polite practice. Whether or not you need a reply, it is best to append on your e-mail which is the case. A simple “Reply not necessary” or “Please respond within the allotted time” will let your recipient know what action to take after reading the mail.
  9. Reply or Reply All? Especially in business/office, we receive e-mails that are sent to a number of people. Before hitting “Reply” or “Reply All,” think first if the other recipients of the e-mail would benefit your message. If so, then go ahead and send your reply to everyone. But if your reply is only beneficial to the sender, then, it is wise to hit only the “Reply” button so as not to bother the other recipients who are not concerned with your message.
  10. Proofread your mail before sending it. This job has even been made easier by our computers, so there is no reason for you to do it. Red squiggly lines mean you misspelled a word, green squiggly lines mean you have to check on you grammar or style. It is always best to give your e-mail a last round of proofreading to ensure that you got everything right—spelling, especially of people’s names; grammar, details, and the likes. We do not want to give our recipients the impression that we are careless, do we?

These are just simple rules to help us become better and more effective e-mail user. Not only that we offer our recipients convenience, we also give them the impression that we are knowledgeable and professional. Why not try these simple rules in your next e-mail writing and see how efficient you have become. In fact, you can even use some of these principles outside the e-mail writing arena.


Other Helpful Resources:

Proper Capitalization
Proper Punctuation
Five Cs of Writing
E-Mail Fonts
Perfect Subject Line
Upload and Share Files via DropBox


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