Email for Business Tips: Responding to an Email

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Further to our article Email for Business Tips: Composing an Email, here is our follow up with some etiquette and tips when responding to an email:

1. Subject Line and Topic

As with composing new emails, all email replies should include a subject line/topic. When responding to emails, leave the original subject line and topic intact whilst it remains current. If the subject/topic changes, it is best to change the subject line to reflect this. This will help avoid any confusion. It is best to avoid discussing two different topics in one email.

2. Salutation

When initially responding to an email, it is appropriate to address the person as you would when composing a new email. So if it is someone you don’t know well, they should be addressed “Dear Mr James” or “Dear Doctor Adams”. If you do not know the individual’s name, “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam” is acceptable.

If you have a good working relationship with the person, it is fine to use their first name, such as “Dear Amy” or “Hi Amy”.

However if the conversation is ongoing, common practice appears to be leaving salutation out completely. Whilst this appears to be widely accepted, I avoid it as much as possible, and address the person as I usually would.

3. Format

As with new emails, your email should be formatted correctly, in a similar fashion to a standard document or letter. Most email programs have a wide variety of options for formatting, such as bullets and automatic numbering, just like a regular word processing program such as Word.

4. Grammar and Spelling

As with new emails, correct grammar and spelling are important. Paragraphs should be used, but they should be kept short, if possible.

Ensure capitals are used appropriately, and remember that typing in ALL CAPS is considered “shouting”. Avoid shortening words using “text” or “SMS” language, such as “u” or “r”.

5. Attachments

Again, as with new emails use attachments only where necessary. Emails with attachments can take longer to download, and can be a source of viruses.

Do not leave the attachment in place when responding to an email, delete it as their is no need to send it back to the person who sent it to you!

6. Signature

It is important to include a signature in every email that you send, whether it is a reply or a new email. It can be simple or elaborate, but it must include your name and perhaps some further information like your phone number or website address.

If you don’t know the recipient of the email well, it is good practice to use “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully”. However there is a growing trend towards “Kind regards” or “Best regards”.

Even if you do know the recipient well, it won’t hurt to include a friendly closure such as “Have a nice day”, “Take care, or “All the best”. A lot of emails I receive from well known clients or colleagues are signed off “Cheers”, and that is okay too.

If email correspondence is ongoing, it is appropriate to sign off with your name only, so long as previous emails contain your more detailed contact information.

7. Privacy

With every email it is important to remember that they are neither private nor secure. You should carefully consider what you are including in an email, and take particular care with confidential and sensitive information. Check and double check addresses before you hit send, even when responding! If there were “CC’s” (carbon copies) in the original email, changes are they need to be included in the reply email. As such hit “Reply to All” instead of “Reply” when composing your response.

Whilst we believe all of the above tips are important, each person is different and it is up to the individual to determine the appropriate content and format of any email they send. After all, you know yourself, your business and your contacts better than anyone else!