To smiley face or not: the complexity of email etiquette

To smiley face or not: the complexity of email etiquette

Emails are ubiquitous in a modern, globalised workforce. However, a well-crafted email can make the sender appear approachable and competent, while a poorly constructed one is less persuasive, and leaves recipients less willing to comply with the request.

Alongside making requests and providing information, emails help us build rapport in the workplace and long-term business relationships. So it’s unsurprising that there’s a sizable market for help with email etiquette.

An internet search for “email etiquette” generates 433,000 results, while a search for books on email etiquette fetches 76 titles (on However, the advice we get is often hazy, lacking justification, and may even be contradictory at times.

A 2003 study suggested that these different opinions on what to write in an email will converge over time, and that rules will emerge. But 14 years later, we still haven’t gone very far in producing or sticking to a standard.

Why there is no standard when it comes to email etiquette

The problem is emails are all written for very different purposes, including personal messages and invitations, advertising and customer inquiries, team announcements and company newsletters among other things. The setting also changes; what is acceptable in an academic’s emails is different from business emails.

The norms in emails also vary between internal and external communication, according to profession and across cultures.

It doesn’t help either that the conventions of email communication are constantly evolving. If there isn’t a one-size-fits-all template that we can apply, what can we rely on to guide email writing?

It’s all about the context

If you look at the context for each email it can give you a guide as to what to write. Take for example greeting and closing an email.

A common point of disagreement between commentators is the need for proper greetings and closings. On the one hand, our guidebooks tell us we should always include an appropriate greeting, while on the other, the emails we often see in the workplace seem to contain no greetings at all.

Openings and closings in emails are used to establish the relationship between the sender and the recipient, so this should be the first consideration. Employees who are addressing a distant colleague or someone with higher authority, for example, are more likely to include a greeting.

Read the full article on The Conversation.