Older professionals frequently complain of the email etiquette practiced by their younger counterparts.

Well over a decade ago, we moved away from writing lengthy letters with pen, paper, and the postal service, ditching snail mail for the computerized alternative: email.

Along with the switch to email came a shift in communication. With the click of the send button, your message can [almost] instantaneously appear in the recipient’s inbox. With faster communication came setting aside cursory language (i.e., I hope this message finds you well…) and small talk for more urgent matters. The brevity of the message speaks to the immediacy of the topic.

A good email is effective. It informs the recipient of the purpose for the message, providing or requesting information, with an appropriate level of interaction between the participants in an email thread. Here are some tips for writing effective emails:

Do not use unnecessary exclamation points.

If you are using an exclamation point, you probably only need one. An exclamation point is used to show that were you speaking, you would use increased volume for that word or series of words. Using multiple exclamation points can intensify your statement, but the more you use, the less credibility you have.

Never write in all capital letters.

In written communication, particularly on social media, in email, and in text messages, when someone writes in all capital letters, IT IS READ AS IF THEY WERE YELLING. Just as you probably don’t typically yell at people in person, you should never yell in an email. If you feel the need to write in all capital letters, then take a break from the message to calm yourself down before you send something you’ll regret later.

If you accidentally had the caps lock function in your keyboard turned on when you wrote something, then go back and edit it to be in lowercase. It is worth the extra effort.

Use semicolons.

The semicolon is used in two main instances. The first is when you have already used a comma in an item in a list.

Together they include such things as that the speaker and hearer both know how to speak the language; both are conscious of what they are doing; they have no physical impediments to communication, such as deafness, aphasia, or laryngitis; and they are not acting in a play or telling jokes, etc.

-John R. Searle, The Structure of illocutionary Acts

The second instance of semicolons is when you want to join independent clauses together in a sentence.

In such cases it is important to emphasize that the utterance is meant as a request; that is, the speaker intends to produce in the hearer the knowledge that a request has been made to him, and he intends to produce this knowledge by means of getting the hearer to recognize his intention to produce it.

-John R. Searle, Indirect Speech Acts

Consider the context and address the recipient properly.

Striking the right balance between formal and casual is an important factor in how your listener will understand you. Acting too comfortable can give your listener the impression that you do not care about the interaction, and acting more formal than is needed can come off as disrespectful or demanding – hopefully, not the response you want from your email recipient.

At the beginning of your message, address the person you’re writing to by name. It is politer to precede their name with a greeting (e.g., Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening, Hello). Use the person’s first name, unless you don’t know them or they have already addressed you by your last name. If you use a person’s last name, use one of the following:

Ms.           Mrs.         Miss         Mr.           Dr.

Unless the other person asks you to, do not use one of the above honorifics if you are using the person’s first name. With an honorific, the tone of the message is more formal. The less you include a greeting, the less formal your email will be. Using a greeting with an honorific too often can make the writer sound smarmy, decreasing credibility.

Do not use the person’s first and last names. Use either their first name or their last name with an honorific.

Write a concise subject.

The subject line should contain the essence of the message. Many people decide which emails to open based on what the subject is. The best subject to give your email is a brief summary of the email. If you are asking for something, put what you’re asking for in the subject line. Provide just enough detail to inform the recipient of the reason you’re email them and the contents of the email, but do not put everything in the subject line, either.

Make your email threads flow.

Just as there’s a beginning, middle, and end of a conversation, there is also a flow to email threads. Email threads are multiple emails exchanged between two people regarding the same topic, usually with the same subject line.

The text of the first email may begin with a greeting and a quick sentence wishing the person well. Something along the lines of I hope your summer is going well. If you want to engage the recipient on a more personal level, put this line in the form of a question (i.e., How is your summer going?).

Then, in the next paragraph, get to the point. The best emails are concise. However, if you feel you need to provide details, then provide them after you get to the point of the email – in this way, the details explain the point – then restate your point before the closing of the email.

The ending of the email (the close) should include a quick sentence, ideally with a positive tone, such as Have a great afternoon! However, if the content of your email is not so positive, then ending your message in this way is not a good idea. Just as the quick sentence at the beginning of the message set the tone of the message, the few words at the end of the text serve to close the email conversation appropriately. When being genial, it is okay to use an exclamation point. It indicates friendliness and shows that were the sentence spoken out loud, there would be some upward rising intonation towards the end.

After the initial email exchange, subsequent emails can be less formal. The opening and closing friendly lines may be omitted, and you may choose to omit your greeting at the beginning as well. If you use the same sign-off (for example, Regards, [your name]), it is a good idea to automate your emails to end with this text. That will save you the time it takes to type out your name each time you write an email.

Put it together for good email communication

The next time you find yourself frustrated about an email communication, think about how your own emailing could be improved. Even in email communications, there is always room for improvement. Consider how you start the conversation, what you include in your messages, and who you’re talking to. Then, make them better. Before you click send, let them hear your ideas!