It's no longer uncommon to work regularly with people you've never met, with the interactions carried out entirely through calls and email. How you compose an email speaks to your professionalism, reliability, and image, and it represents, by extension, your company or place of work.
Formality used to be a given in business correspondence, but not anymore. Follow the same pattern in an email that you would face-to-face. If your new client has been introduced to you as Brian, or if that is what the rest of the team calls him, you don't need to revert to Mr. Carson in a follow-up email. But the reverse also applies: until asked to call him Brian, stick with Mr. Carson.
When in doubt, defer to the formal: use Mr. for men, Ms. for women. It's far easier to respond to, "Oh, call me Kara," than, "Actually, it's Ms. Pomerantz."
Hello and Goodbye
Most emails are only a few lines at most, but the recipient is still worth a salutation and closing: "Dear" remains both standard and formal, "Hello" is professional and friendly, "Hi" is casual and conversational. Avoid "Hey"; it may sound jaunty to some, but to others it can read as a verbal jab.
There are a multitude of options for closings. When in doubt "Sincerely" or "Regards" are both safe bets. Other variations on this theme include, "Best regards," "Kind regards," "Best wishes," "Sincere regards," "Thank you," and "Many thanks," to name just a few. More casually are, "Take care" and "Talk soon."
When an email chain deepens, it is fine to drop greetings, as the tone is now a back-and-forth conversation.
Tricks of the Trade
Should you really include a smiley in your business email? Unless you are absolutely certain an emoticon will be received well, avoid using them. To unsympathetic eyes, or simply to someone who doesn't know you well, they look juvenile in business.
The same applies to the use of abbreviations, such as "ttyl" ("talk to you later") and "lmk" ("let me know"). Shorthand isn't wrong; but it only serves you and your professionalism well if received well (or at least with notice), so consider your audience first.
The use of all caps always denotes shouting, so unless you are shouting congratulations, get calm and pick up the phone or visit a colleague to discuss differences of opinion.
Signature blocks can be helpful, especially when they contain the basic alternate means of contact: mailing address, telephone, mobile or fax numbers, and perhaps a website. Signature blocks run the risk of becoming weighty anchors at the bottom of a message when they include too many promotional links, websites, or social networking invitations. Keep inspiration quotes for personal email accounts.
Do you have any email etiquette pet peeves? Share your thoughts in the box below!