Correspondence Etiquette

The way that you represent yourself in writing carries significant weight. This article outlines the guidelines for communicating through text messages, emails, memos, and letters.


Etiquette in technology, referred to as netiquette, is a term used to refer to the unofficial code of policies that encourage good behavior on the Internet which is used to regulate respect and polite behavior on social media platforms, online chatting sites, web forums, and other online engagement websites.

Correspondence: Text Messages, Emails, Memos, and Letters

Text messaging, emailing, and posting on social media in a professional context require that you be familiar with "netiquette", or proper etiquette for using the internet. We have all heard news stories about people who have been fired and companies that have been boycotted for making offensive or inappropriate social media posts. People have even gone to prison for illegal use of private messaging.  The digital world may seem like a free-for-all, "wild wild West" with no clear rules or regulations; however, this is clearly a dangerous perspective for a professional to take, as the consequences for breaking tacit rules, expectations, and guidelines for professional communications can be very costly.

The way that you represent yourself in writing carries significant weight. Writing in an online environment requires tact, skill, and an awareness that what you write may be there for a very long time and may be seen by people you never considered as your intended audience. From text messages to memos to letters, from business proposals to press releases, your written business communication represents you and your company:  your goal is to make it clear, concise, constructive, and professional.

We create personal pages, post messages, and interact via online technologies as a normal part of our careers, but how we conduct ourselves can leave a lasting image, literally. The photograph you posted on your Instagram page or Twitter feed may have been seen by your potential employer, or that insensitive remark in a Facebook post may come back to haunt you later.



Whatever digital device you use, written communication in the form of brief messages, or texting, has become a common way to connect. It is useful for short exchanges, and is a convenient way to stay connected with others when talking on the phone would be cumbersome. Texting is not useful for long or complicated messages, and careful consideration should be given to the audience. When texting, always consider your audience and your company, and choose words, terms, or abbreviations that will deliver your message appropriately and effectively.



Email is familiar to most students and workers. In business, it has largely replaced print hard copy letters for external (outside the company) correspondence, and in many cases, it has taken the place of memos for internal (within the company) communication. Email can be very useful for messages that have slightly more content than a text message, but it is still best used for fairly brief messages. Many businesses use automated emails to acknowledge communications from the public or to remind associates that periodic reports or payments are due. You may also be assigned to "populate" a form email in which standard paragraphs are used but you choose from a menu of sentences to make the wording suitable for a particular transaction.

Emails may be informal in personal contexts, but business communication requires attention to detail, awareness that your email reflects you and your company, and a professional tone so that it may be forwarded to any third party if needed. Email often serves to exchange information within organizations. Although email may have an informal feel, remember that when used for business, it needs to convey professionalism and respect. Never write or send anything that you wouldn't want to be read in public or in front of your company president.

As with all writing, professional communications require attention to the specific writing context, and it may surprise you that even elements of form can indicate a writer's strong understanding of the audience and purpose. The principles explained here apply to the educational context as well; use them when communicating with your instructors and classroom peers.



Memoranda, or memos, are one of the most versatile document forms used in professional settings. Memos are "in-house" documents (sent within an organization) to pass along or request information, outline policies, present short reports, and propose ideas. While they are often used to inform, they can also be persuasive documents. A company or institution typically has its own "in-house" style or template that is used for documents such as letters and memos.



Letters are brief messages sent to recipients that are often outside the organization. They are often printed on letterhead paper that represents the business or organization and are generally limited to one or two pages. While email and text messages may be used more frequently today, the business letter remains a common form of written communication. It can serve to introduce you to a potential employer, announce a product or service, or even serve to communicate feelings and emotions (compliant letters, for example).

There are many types of letters, and many adaptations in terms of form and content, but this chapter presents the fifteen elements of a traditional block-style letter. Letters may serve to introduce your skills and qualifications to prospective employers (cover letter), deliver important or specific information, provide documentation of an event or decision, or introduce an attached report or long document (letter of transmittal).

Letters within the professional context may take on many other purposes, such as communicating with suppliers, contractors, partner organizations, clients, government agencies, and so on. Here is a list of the most common kinds of letters:

  • Transmittal Letters: when you send a report or some other document, such as a resumé, to an external audience, send it with a cover letter that briefly explains the purpose of the enclosed document and a brief summary.  Click the link to download a Letter of Transmittal Template (.docx).

  • Letters of Inquiry:  you may want to request information about a company or organization such as whether they anticipate job openings in the near future or whether they fund grant proposals from non-profit groups. In this case, you would send a letter of inquiry, asking for additional information. As with most business letters, keep your request brief, introducing yourself in the opening paragraph and then clearly stating your purpose and/or request in the second paragraph. If you need very specific information, consider placing your requests in list form for clarity. Conclude in a friendly way that shows appreciation for the help you will receive.

  • Follow-up Letters:  any time you have made a request of someone, write a follow-up letter expressing your appreciation for the time your letter recipient has taken to respond to your needs or consider your job application. If you have had a job interview, the follow-up letter thanking the interviewer for his/her time is especially important for demonstrating your professionalism and attention to detail.


Source: Suzan Last,
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Last modified: Tuesday, December 14, 2021, 5:42 PM