dear boss, thx for ur help!

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned for my professional life is business etiquette. The way you communicate with professionals is much different than the way you communicate with friends and family. When you’re young, it can be really hard to enter into the business world and know how everything works right away. In fact, it is probably impossible.

Often times, you need to use business etiquette before you are even a working professional yourself. I frequently need to e-mail people in companies who I do not know, and my message will serve as a first impression for the recipient. I contact people asking to volunteer, asking for quotes, asking for jobs – all sorts of reasons. In each one, it is important that my message makes an impact and represents me well. In addition, it is very important that the person I am contacting knows that I respect them, their time, and their knowledge of whatever I am inquiring about.

I initially learned a lot of business etiquette while interning at Central PA Magazine in Harrisburg, PA, near where I am from. I was commuting to the magazine five days a week and working directly with other interns, the Senior Editor, and the Executive Editor on a daily basis. I also frequently worked with many other employees from different departments other than Editorial. Since I had not had any real office experience prior to this, it was a whole new world to me. I had a cubicle, a phone, and a computer to myself – all potential outlets for professional growth or destruction.

The most difficult one to get accustomed to was the computer. I had to manage multiple company e-mail accounts for the magazine from day one, and I’ll be honest, that’s a lot of pressure. I’m naturally tech savvy, but I had never needed to be professional about it too. My boss, the Executive Editor, took it upon herself to ensure that all interns were fluent in proper business e-mail etiquette by the time we left. This was a learning experience that has proven to be extremely useful and valuable to me again and again, especially since coming to Emerson.

Here are a few of the trickiest tips I had to master that I think will be most helpful to you in future professional e-mail communication:

1) Always be polite and courteous. No matter who you are e-mailing, from an assistant or intern to the President, use your manners. Seriously, say please and thank you! These people have a lot of control over how quickly your message gets to the person who needs to see it, so you want to be on their good side. People know that it takes extra effort to be polite in an e-mail, something that is normally quite straightforward [1]. It’s vital to acknowledge that you appreciate the time the recipient is spending in reading and responding to your message. Trust me, the more polite you are, the better response you will get. However, once in awhile you do run into people who simply do not seem to be very nice in return. In that case, you can find comfort in knowing that you were not inflammatory in any way. No matter how someone responds, remember to send back a quick “thank you” message because they took the time to respond to you.

2) Tell them who you are. Introduce yourself first in your e-mail. Give important details such as your full name, any company or institution you are affiliated with (related to the e-mail), and why exactly you are contacting them. [2] As a magazine intern, I became accustomed to introducing myself and also signing my e-mails with an info block. [3] This puts your name and contact information in one easy place.

3) Be mindful of how your message will be received. This is where it may be helpful to have someone else read your e-mail before you send it. Since text does not reveal the tone of your voice, you have to choose your words very carefully. One wrong word or phrase can throw off the recipient and give them the wrong impression of you. [4]

4) Overestimate how respectful you need to be. This goes back to number 1. Being polite and showing respect is of the utmost importance in business etiquette. No matter who you are writing to, use proper salutations and closings. [5] Be sure to thank them for their time, again, regardless of whether or not you got what you needed. Continue addressing people with Mr. or Ms. unless they tell you to do otherwise. It is disrespectful to: spell their name wrong, put the wrong company name (either incomplete or spelled incorrectly), use accusatory language, be ungrateful, or ask time-wasting questions (that may be answered on the company website).

5) Overall appearance. The person you are contacting likely receives hundreds of e-mails per day, so you want to make sure they actually open and read your message. It is probably best to use your school e-mail if you are contacting someone on behalf of a school club or for a project. If your personal e-mail is pretty much your name, that’s fine. If it’s going to detract from how seriously the recipient takes you (i.e., don’t use it. Make sure you put something in the subject line that will indicate what you are contacting them about. It’s okay for the subject to be a little long; Rather than just putting “school project,” put “Emerson College service learning project.” Finally, do not try to be fancy with your text’s appearance. Don’t use color, bold, italics, underlining, large fonts, fancy fonts, etc.

Also remember that once you send an e-mail there is no way to take it back. Read your e-mail a few times before hitting send. If it’s really important, have someone else check it over too. Once the recipient gets your message, they have a permanent record of how you chose to communicate with them.

Oh, and please don’t forget to spell everything correctly (and completely)!


Lilly Joynes

[Lilly is a freshmen Communications major and contributing writer to our Department blog. – Sandy]


[1] In face-to-face conversation, it’s natural to be conversational – ask how someone is doing, what they are up to, et cetera. In e-mail correspondence, it takes effort. It can be tempting to send a straightforward message such as “Hi, I need to make an appointment with Dr. Z.” However, the better option is to be a bit more conversational. Say something such as, “Hello, my name is Lilly. Hope you are well. I would like to make an appointment with Dr. Z to discuss X, X, X. Can you help me set up a time? Thank you for your help!”

[2] For example: “Hello, my name is Lilly Joynes and I am a freshman Communication Studies major at Emerson College. I am contacting you in regard to a service learning project for my Interpersonal Communication class…”

[3] Lilly Joynes

Editorial Intern

Central PA Magazine

717- XXX – XXXX

[4] In the beginning of the semester, I was contacting local agencies looking for a place to complete my service-learning project. I was striking out again and again, so I contacted the lady who is in charge of community outreach at Emerson. I told her about my frustrations in finding a location that could work with my schedule. “I have contacted many places with no luck. I just want to find a secure location so I can get this project over with.” The fact that I said I wanted to “get it over with” worried her so much that she wasn’t sure if I could be trusted to be respectful at an agency. I let my stress translate into my message and it skewed her perspective of me in a negative way.

[5] Some salutations you could use include: “Dear ____” and “To whom it may concern.” If you do not know exactly which person you are addressing, you can still use “Dear.” Write “Dear Sir or Madam or Dear Manager of XYZ”. However, the more personal, the better.

Some closings to use: best, regards, or sincerely. Personally, I use “regards” when signing e-mails to people I do not know and I use “best” when signing e-mails to professionals that I do know.


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