Lab Manager Academy: Email Etiquette

By Karen Litzinger

Have you ever been on the receiving end of an email from the “all caps junkie” or the “cc: monster”? In our fast-paced workplace, email is the norm, whether via computer or smart phone. Unfortunately, instant messaging has sparked the deterioration of language as we know it (U no wht I mean?). Practicing good email etiquette can help you effectively get your message across and enhance your professional image. It can also help with productivity for the entire team.

Start your higher standards with these tips:

• Uses: Email is best for relaying factual information and not for decision- making. Otherwise, the emails can go back and forth endlessly, cluttering inboxes with nothing getting done. Similarly, avoid email for anything confidential or sensitive. Sometimes it is better to schedule a meeting or conference call. Or you may want to pick up the telephone, or get up and talk to someone face-to-face.

• The Basics: Use correct spelling, grammar and sentence structure. Yes, you can be briefer with a Black- Berry or other smart phone, but remember that this is still business correspondence. For an initial email, you should still use a greeting and closing; for back-and-forth emails, you don’t need the “hello” or “sincerely” and you can use just your initial in closing. Always include a clear subject line, and change it if the conversation changes.

• Tone: Because there are no verbal tone or nonverbal behavior cues as part of communication, avoid using email for any topic where emotion is involved, especially frustration or anger. If there is a chance your reply could be misinterpreted, draft your reply and wait 24 hours before sending it. Also realize that humor can be misread. Emoticons or other symbols are best left for personal correspondence. ;) Since email correspondence can appear abrupt, consider beginning with a “hello” or ending with a “thank you” or “have a nice day.” Avoid all caps, since they are the equivalent of shouting. Watch the use of bold or red as well.

• Timing: Most business etiquette experts say the standard for replying to emails is within 24 hours. One expert held 48 hours as the standard; yet, increasingly organizations are having a same-day policy for answering email correspondence since so many people expect instant replies. Avoid using email for a topic that needs an immediate response. If you do prefer to email and need a quick turnaround, call the recipient and give a heads-up.

• Automated Signature: Do use an automated signature file with complete contact information. It could be that the receiver may actually want to pick up the phone and call you to resolve a situation. Or perhaps they want to send you a thank-you note! Don’t overload your signature file with too much in the way of quotes, inspirations or link to buy your latest book.

• Courtesies: Refrain from cc’ing too many people who don’t need to be involved or using “reply to all” when it is not necessary. Also avoid forwarding jokes, inspirations or even worthy causes to multiple people, unless you know they want to receive these types of emails. This applies in both your business and personal lives!

Comments about these tips and your stories about email blunders are welcome. Just email me…but please be nice!

Karen Litzinger is owner of Litzinger Career Consulting, which helps individuals and organizations manage career transitions and increase professionalism. Karen is a professional member of the National Speakers Association and is incoming president of the Pittsburgh Chapter. You can reach her at 412-242-5342 or through

If you missed Karen Litzinger’s Lab Manager Academy webinar “Lab Etiquette - Maintaining High Professional Standards in the Lab", originally broadcast on Wednesday March 2, 2011, visit to watch the archived video.

Published In

Confident? Magazine Issue Cover

Published: February 1, 2011

Cover Story


Our third annual confidence survey reveals that survey participants—ranging from technicians to corporate management—believe their research organizations will be just slightly better off financially than they were a year ago and that business conditions in their market sectors will somewhat improve to support or attract significant research investments.