A few years ago a colleague of mine sent me several emails about a project I had done and the subsequent meeting that was to follow. Unfortunately, due to technological glitches in our email system, I never received any of her emails. As is often the case, my colleague assumed I had received the emails and had simply chosen to ignore her. She contacted one of my superiors who then contacted me to let me know of the importance of setting up this meeting. It wasn’t until that time that I even realized a problem existed.

Think about it – how much of our communication is done via email? If you’re like me, you’re in front of your computer for hours on end, week after week, with much of the time spent checking and responding to emails. But how much time do we really invest in terms of how we communicate with others through email? Most of us get the email, quickly craft a response, and send the message on its way. And, often, it’s not until we get a response fired back at us that we realize perhaps we didn’t take as much time as we should have thinking about the message we might be sending.

You might be thinking – so what’s the big deal? Well – if you’re communicating with an old friend who has thick skin and pays little attention to subtle nuances in your text, it might not be a big deal at all. But when it comes to emails exchanged in business, professionalism is essential. Whether you’re sending a thank you note to someone with whom you recently interviewed or responding to a request from a coworker, following a few simple rules of etiquette might make the difference between a positive and negative exchange.

Generally speaking, your email etiquette should include the following:

1. Email the person back within 24 hours of the time the message was sent to you.

2. Stay away from flashy colored and patterned backgrounds because they can easily distract from the message conveyed.

3. Avoid using all caps in your email response. You may as well be sitting across from the person as you yell your answer to them.

4. After a couple of responses on an issue, you need to change the subject of your email. You certainly shouldn’t be twenty emails out and still referencing the same issue that was resolved 15 emails back.

5. Make sure to run spell check and then read through your response thoroughly to ensure that you don’t have major grammatical errors (e.g., you might say, “Susan went to there house.” The spell check will not catch this since the word there is spelled correctly, yet the correct word to be used is their).

6. If you haven’t heard back from the person within 48-72 hours, send a follow up email to check the status of your original email. If you still receive no response, you may have to resort to picking up the telephone. This will alleviate all the unnecessary and probably inaccurate assessments we often make about why the person has not responded to our emails.

By following a few simple rules, it’s possible to alleviate a whole lot of hassle. The situation I experienced could have been resolved with a follow-up telephone call or by taking a few steps down the hall and knocking on my office door. Simple, huh?