Skip to content

Think Before You Reply: Email Best Practices

You have probably seen a slogan beneath email signatures that says something like this: “Please consider the environment before printing this message.” Many people are tired of that suggestion, and a few readers joined me in creating whimsical email slogans they would like to add to their emails.

Recently I read an email slogan-request on a client’s email that seemed useful:

Please THINK before you respond to this email to ensure you are using email best practices.

I thought again about my reply before clicking Send: Was I using email best practices? Yes, I was.

But many people are not aware of best practices for email. So we receive too many Reply All messages, unnecessary thanks, and one-word replies that don’t include what we need.

If you reminded others to “Please THINK before you respond to this email to ensure you are using email best practices,” would they have best practices to rely on?

Here are 10 email best practices for business emails that I wish everyone would follow:

1. Think before you type. Decide why you are writing and what you want your readers to do. Then organize your thoughts. Do not expect your readers to think for you.

2. Begin with a specific, accurate subject. Use client names or project numbers when appropriate. Never leave the subject blank

3. Get to the point in the opening sentences.

4. If you want people to take action, type their names on the To line—not the Cc line. Cc only the people who must have or should have the information. Do not Cc the world.

5. Make it clear who is responsible for taking action. Avoid “We will. . . .” Who is we? For multiple readers, list a name with each action item.

6. When you want readers to take several actions or answer several questions, list them so each one stands out. Do not convey such items in paragraphs, or your readers will overlook some of them.

7. Write short sentences and short paragraphs. They are faster and easier to read than long ones.

8. Include your name, job title, and contact information at the end of your email so readers will know who you are and how to reach you.

9. Attach the attachments you refer to. Answer the questions people have asked you.

10. Send only “Must know” and “Should know” messages. Forget the fluffy “Thanks” and “You’re welcome” unless people really need them. Eliminate the FYI (for your information) emails that are not should-know information.

Which best practices would you like others to follow?


Posted by Avatar photo
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “Think Before You Reply: Email Best Practices”

  • I find the note on “Thanks” interesting. I always feel compelled to acknowledge the message so the sender can be sure I received it. Sometimes, I appreciate the same type of acknowledgement, especially when I’ve included something like, “I hope this gives you what you need.” Of course, then the response from them should probably be a little more elaborate than “Thanks.” I will think more before sending simple acknowledgement emails.

    I must say, too, I loved the whimsical email slogan: “Please consider the possibility that my spelling of my name is correct.” I am baffled at how often my name is spelled incorrectly in email replies; after all, it is included three times – my email address, by sign off and my signature.

    Thanks! I enjoy following your blog.

  • Hi, Stacy. Thanks for dropping by with a comment. As you suggest, “thanks” messages can be helpful when people need acknowledgment that you have received their email. I sometimes send “Thanks–got it” messages.

    The Reply All thanks are the ones we have to banish from our companies, along with the thanks that simply extend an email conversation, like this:

    John: Thanks for the input. I’ll incorporate it.

    Mary: Thanks, John.

    Mary may want to thank John for incorporating the input. But if that is her intent, she could save the thanks for a sincere message in response to, let’s say, the final document.

    I am glad you enjoy the blog, Stacy. If you do not yet subscribe to my free monthly e-newsletter, try it. You can subscribe here:


  • Thank you for including #5. It is one of my pet peeves and used extensively by my clients/colleagues in drafts I receive. I have been told that consultants use this a lot to create a sense of personalization and intimacy with the reader.

    I find this usage especially irritating when the email is being sent from an inanimate object (i.e., a generic email mailbox, such as “IS Help Desk”). A generic email mailbox cannot be excited about something (example: “We are excited to announce…”), so if the mailbox isn’t excited, who is? Nor can an invididual convey “We are excited to announce…” since “we” is plural. Who else is excited besides the sender?

    As I try to educate my clients on common grammar and punctuation errors, I tell them that whenever they feel the need to use “we,” insert the name of the sender (the generic mailbox, the newsletter or individual) and see if it makes sense. Most times it won’t, in which case, change “we” to identify the specific party being referenced.

    Sorry for being so long-winded!

  • Hello, Jennifer. Thank you for mentioning the excited generic email box. Your suggestion of naming the specific party makes great sense.

    I do find it acceptable, as I believe you do, for an individual to use “we” when speaking for the company or a group. For example, a client may write to me, “We are looking forward to your writing class.” I believe that works fine, even when “I’ll look for you on Friday” follows closely behind it.

    Thanks for taking the time to write.


  • Reality based films also grab the attention of many. Actually, the cinema home systems subject is invaded by different terms which describe the same thing. In some cases, surround sound is not possible in low frequency; however, it is not the case with Panasonic SC-PT480EB-K.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *