Screen-shot-2010-01-28-at-2.12.13-AMStart talking business etiquette and things like a firm handshake and eye contact will come up. Why? These things have nothing to do with your decision making framework or your awesome analytical skills. Details matter because they are indicative of deeper habits.

In this digital age we have far more opportunities to make an impression via email than we do in person. Perhaps that’s unfortunate but it is the world we live in. That being the case, why would a business person–or aspiring businessperson–dress the part but send emails that look like they were composed on a phone while waiting in the line at Starbucks? Don’t get me wrong- I’ll send my close friends fragmented texts and emails that require a bit of deciphering but it’s completely inappropriate for academic or business communication.

For those of you thinking, “Tell me something I don’t know”- THANK YOU. You are doing it right. But, if you have ever sent a business- or school-related email that was not punctuated correctly, contained emoticons 🙂 or was in a font that looks at all like handwriting- STOP. Please stop! It’s the equivalent of showing up to a business meeting in jean shorts and a tank top. Can you still have the meeting? Yes. Will you be taken seriously? No. 

The following is taken from Chris Blattman’s blog. He’s a professor at Columbia University and really hits the nail on the head:


1. Kick the email address from high school. It’s time for “” and “” to rest in peace.

2. Greet. Politely. Launching straight into the message is bad, but “Hi!” is poor form and “Hey Prof!” is an unmitigated disaster. “Dear” and “Hi” are fine, so long as you follow both by a name or title: “Hi Professor” or “Hi Mr. ____”.

3. On second thought, be careful with the Mr. and Ms. I could care less if strangers address me as Mr., Dr. or Prof. Blattman. Few of my colleagues seem to feel the same way. Sadly your approach must conform to the average (or even lowest common) ego. If you’re not sure if the person is a Dr. or not, three seconds on Google should tell you.

4. Capitalize and punctuate. otherwise we will lol at yr sad attempts

5. But not all punctuation. Of the exclamation point, Elmore Leonard said “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” That’s roughly one exclamation point for every 500 messages you send. Use them wisely, for their overuse is the first sign of an immature mind. (Related, from Terry Pratchett: “Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.”)

6. Death to the emoticon. Keep them for your friends. And recall that, for centuries of the printed word, writers managed to convey sarcastic and funny without the semicolon and parenthesis. If you think your comment needs an emoticon, this is a sign you need to rewrite (or delete) the remark.

7. Avoid fancy typefaces or “stationery”. One word: cheeseball.

8. Be clear and concise. Write short messages, make clear requests, get to your point rapidly, and offer to provide more information rather than launch into your life story.

9. Don’t ask for information before you’ve looked on Google. “Can you send me paper X?” is annoying. But the best I’ve received: a request to explain the Cold War.

10. Don’t sound presumptuous. Many people are busy and important (and everybody thinks they are). If you are asking for anything requiring time or energy, it is courteous to be demure.

11. No quotes from famous people in your signature. See “cheeseball” above.

12. With your juniors, do the above as fastidiously as with your seniors. Allow me, momentarily, to break rule #11: ”Modesty is not only an ornament, but also a guard to virtue” – Joseph Addison