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4 Simple Rules for Proper E-mail Etiquette

Follow these guidelines to prevent e-mail faux pas from leaving your mailbox.

What are appropriate ways to begin and end work-related e-mails? Save “Hi” for colleagues and work acquaintances. New clients should be greeted with “Hello” or “Dear,” followed by “Mr.” or “Ms.” (or a professional title) and the person’s surname. “The addressee won’t notice the word hello as much as the respect factor,” says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas. To close the e-mail, you can’t go wrong with “Sincerely,” “Best” or “Kind regards,” whereas “Cheers” may come off as too jaunty. You can drop formal greetings as the e-mail conversation continues; take your cue from your recipient as to when to use first names.

What if you’re writing to a general in-box that starts with “info@” or the like, rather than to a specific person? “To Whom It May Concern” makes for a cold greeting, even to a stranger, says Gottsman. Instead, acknowledge that there’s a human on the other end and go with “‘Dear Hiring Manager” or “To the Customer Service Team.”

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I was looped into a group e-mail discussion on a topic that’s not my expertise. Should I respond? If your e-mail address appears in the “To” line, yes, says Rosanne Thomas, president of Protocol Advisors, an etiquette consultancy. If you’re included in the “cc:” box or as part of a large preset e-mail group, you’re usually off the hook, and recipients might even appreciate your keeping the thread uncluttered. One exception: If the request comes from a superior or client, send a short, private note back so he or she doesn’t think you are being unresponsive.

Can I send a formal sympathy or thank-you note by e-mail rather than regular mail? Write condolence cards by hand: This personal touch is more comforting and meaningful than an e-mail and better conveys the gravity of the loss. Plus, the recipient might appreciate being able to pull out the card to reread it in the future. A thank-you message via e-mail is often sufficient, especially when you want to thank someone quickly. But in cases in which someone has done you a special favor, such as helping you out in an emergency or nominating you for an award, send a handwritten letter.

One situation in which it pays to do both: following a job interview. Interviewers expect to hear from you within 24 hours, says Thomas, so send a brief thank-you e-mail right after the interview that also reaffirms your interest. Immediately follow up with a written note repeating your thanks and reminding the interviewer of the assets you can bring to the job.

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