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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.

Among many others, proper email etiquette is one of those things that they just don’t teach in school. Often, this skill develops throughout college as you email professors for class, peers for group projects, the student body as part of clubs, and even professionals and recruiters as you look for internships and jobs. However, there’s a lot you don’t learn about the beast that is email culture in a professional office environment – and while every office is different and has their own expectations and level of formality, there seem to be a few universal truths that will help you get the hang of emailing in your first office job.

“The Lingo”

Similar to how texting culture has developed its own shorthand in the past 15 years or so, there are many shorthands and common phrases that are a part of email culture. These will certainly vary from office to office and depending on your industry, but a few fairly universal ones to keep track of are:

topbox – this literally just means re-forwarding someone a previous email chain so that it comes back to the top of their inbox. For example, if you spoke to a coworker in person and they said something like “I remember seeing that but it got buried in my inbox” you could say “no worries, I’ll topbox that for you” and re-forward the message.

circling back/following up – this is a good way to check up on someone who hasn’t responded to your email or request. “Hello, just circling back about the status of that request.”

confirming receipt – this is a great way to acknowledge someone when they send you a document, request, or really anything and you don’t necessarily have any comments to make. “Thanks, confirming receipt!” is a great way of letting them know you read the email and are tracking (see below) so they don’t wonder if you’ve read their email or not.

tracking – tracking simply means “I’m with you” or “we’re on the same page.”

+ _____ (for visibility) – often you’ll see someone on an email chain respond with nothing but “+ Katrina” or “+ Katrina for visibility” – it’s just a way to be polite and let the original sender know you’ve added another person to the chain so they can be involved with the conversation.

piggyback – piggyback is basically “adding on to” – for example, “piggybacking off Katrina’s earlier question, when might we expect results on this?”

per my last email – be careful with this one! It can come across as super passive-aggressive in some instances – BUT, sometimes it’s necessary to cover yourself. Use it with caution, but use it to remind someone that you have indeed already told them what they’re asking for. In a less harsh use case, it can also be used as a follow-up tool: “per my last email, when might we expect the work to be completed?” A good alternative that’s slightly less direct is per our last conversation.

flagging – flagging just means drawing attention to. For example “Hi Katrina, please see the attached excel sheet. Flagging Row 34, as it’s super important we don’t miss that deadline.”

align – simply to get on the same page with. “We need to align as a team” or “thanks for claryfing, we are aligned.”

There are many, many, many more, but look out for these common ones as you enter the office environment!

Proofread, proofread, proofread

This is a big one. It’s so, so important to proofread your emails because it shows that you are professional and committed, and that you care about your work. Typos happen to the best of us, but really try to take a few extra seconds to make sure everything is grammatically correct, no one’s name is misspelled, and that you’re sending the email to the right person/people. Avoid any urges you might have to use “text speak” or shortened versions of words, even if it’s just a casual message to your peer.

Hacks for getting a response

Offices get busy, as do the people that work in them. It’s completely inevitable that you’ll sometimes wait days to hear back from someone and never get a response – and odds are you’ll forget to respond to someone too. It’s usually not because people are lazy, but because emails just fall to the bottom of the inbox so quickly and it can be easy to overlook or forget about one or two. An important lesson to learn early on is that it’s okay to follow up! After a day or two (depending on the urgency of the matter) you can certainly send a follow-up email that’s as simple as “Hi Katrina, following up about my previous message. Can you let me know when you’ll be able to get to that task?” Also, don’t be afraid to call people! Or walk over to their desk and say hi. Often, people just need a quick reminder and they’ll be happy to get back to you when they can.

Most of all, just remember that communication is key. It’s easy for emails (where it’s tricky to convey tone) to get hostile or passive-aggressive, especially on high-stakes projects or short deadlines. Make sure you are always being as open and clear as possible, and try to be respectful of everyone no matter how much they may be annoying you in that moment. Happy emailing!

Katrina Hicks

Northwestern '19