“Manners maketh man” Manners can also make, or break, business transactions!


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  “ . . . the best educational site I have ever encountered on the web regarding e-mail ethics . . . During my consultancy assignments around the world I have experienced many cultural clashes of the worst kind to be imagined in business. For sure Business Netiquette International gives a good insight of how to behave in a "cross-cultural" business society, especially in mailing to one and other, or e-marketing.” — Peter R. Luiks, CEO of International Business Liaisons, The Netherlands.


is the Web's prime “Netiquette” site for business etiquette, keeping international business in mind. This means company to company e-mail, not personal messages between business colleagues.
Other sites offer Netiquette advice for personal communications.

        THE BASIC RULE of etiquette in any circumstance is to have and to show consideration for the other party. If you will just stop and think how the other person is likely to receive your communication, you will go a long way towards preventing misunderstandings and not giving offense. The SIMPLE TEST is: “How would I feel in these circumstances, if I received this message?”

        Communicating by e-mail is no different from writing on your company letterhead. A business communication is business, period. A certain degree of formality is required. Just because e-mail tends to be more immediate and personable, it doesn't need to get personal. (There is a difference between personal and personable - check your dictionary!)

The following is offered for your consideration.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please e-mail   F.Pearce at Pearman

Originating e-mail.

        When originating e-mail, say where you obtained the e-mail address of the person to whom you are writing. Or mention the web page name or URL, if you e-mailed off a web page. Many business people have more than one page on the internet and knowing from where or why you are contacting them is helpful. It might even get you a more meaningful reply.

        In addition, always put something in the Subject box.

        Messages that arrive with no indication of source and no Subject are very likely to be treated as “junk mail.”

        Do not send ‘attachments’ (files attached to an e-mail message) with your e-mail unless and until your correspondent has indicated that they will accept it. Ask first!

e-Mailheads and Signatures.

        Create an e-mail letterhead for formal proposals, contracts, offers, and the like. But, use it sparingly, and only when appropriate. Recipients may balk at the wasted linage, unless there is a clear purpose. Keep it short - 3 lines are enough.

        Proper use would be whenever it is necessary to make it clear that the message is from your company, rather than from yourself, such as an offer to purchase.

        Create a signature for consistency. Keep it short and concise. Include your e-mail address in case the signature gets separated from the header. Don't duplicate in your signature any material you have in your e-mailhead.

        Here's an example:-

To: recipient@hisco.com
From: John Doe (jdoe@mycompany.com)
Subject: Work Proposal
M y C o m p a n y       I n c.

John Doe (jdoe@mycompany.com)
Visit our web page at http://www.myco.com/

Capitalizing, and other odd things.

        Business communication requires proper use of written language. It requires proper use of capital letters. Some offices permit - even encourage - all lower-case for internal memos. But, this is rude and slovenly when used for inter-company communications. Would you write a business letter on company letterhead using all lower-case? We hope not!


  1. internet - is a generic term, not a proper noun. Use lower case and capitalize only at the beginning of a sentence. (However, many journalists are capitalizing Internet. By today's rules, this is not correct, but English is a living language with custom a major factor. In time, it may be correct to capitalize Internet.)
  2. intranet - is a common noun. Capitalize at the beginning of a sentence and when the word has been particularized - as in the IBM Intranet (like the Ohio River), but: IBM's intranet.
  3. World Wide Web - should be capitalized, according to Webster's - see below. (However, by the same rule, other things of the same class like gopher and archie should be capitalized, too. As these are rarely capitalized, you may decide not to capitalize “world wide web.” Whatever you choose, be consistent.)
  4. The initials, WWW, which stand for “World Wide Web,” should be in capitals. (But Webster's does not always capitalize abbreviations. If you capitalize the whole phrase, capitalize the abbreviation, and vice versa.)
  5. e-mail - the “e” is always lower case. At the beginning of a sentence, the “M” is capitalized – as in e-Mail. And the word should be hyphenated. (“email” - no hyphen - means “enamel” in German and French.)
  6. on-line - should be hyphenated, not written solid (online). However, “Online” is commonly used in trade names (eg.America Online), in which case it should be written as the trade name dictates, usually solid and capitalized.

Capitalization according to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary
“The essential distinction in the use of capitals and lower-case letters beginning words lies in the particularizing or individualizing significance of capitals as against the generic or generalizing significance of non-capitals. A capital is used with all proper nouns, that is, nouns that distinguish some individual person or thing from others of the same class... Most proper nouns used not in the primary significance but in a derived, secondary, or special sense (as cashmere, the fabric) are written without capitalization.”

First names and Titles.

        If your correspondent uses your first name, then by all means use theirs. But, should you be the first to do so? Many people do not want such immediate informality in a business situation, especially in the international arena. Business people in many countries find the friendly nature of Americans, for example, somewhat over-bearing at first.


  1. If you initiate the contact and want to keep it formal, use title (Mr., Ms, with or without the abbreviation period.) If you want to be informal, it's your decision, being the first to write, but be ready to switch if your correspondent replies formally.
  2. For international e-mail, err on the side of caution and write formally.
  3. Or, send your first message without salutation. “Dear Friend,” “Hi Neighbor” and such, is not recommended for business. If you are not sure what to use, use nothing. “Dear Webmaster” is okay, if you are sure you are writing to the webmaster.
  4. When replying, be guided by your correspondent's signature. If they have signed a single name (probably their given name), you may address them accordingly. If both given and family names are used, it is safest to reply formally. Men might reply to men with given names, and women to women, but a man should not reply to a lady using her first name only unless it is clear that he is invited to do so, especially internationally.
  5. Some business communications quickly take on the flavor of a personal chat - in which case, first names are appropriate. Others remain on a formal level - in which case, retain the formal address.
  6. Consider age and rank, too, if it can be discerned from the correspondence. Outside North America, people in a position of authority and people of mature years expect a certain deference from their juniors.
CLICK HERE for International Addresses and Salutations.

The Message.

        Correspondents frequently try hard to be brief. This is desirable, but business messages will usually be longer than personal notes. It is important, also, to communicate - don't kill understanding with brevity.

        When replying, you will often be replying to only part of the received message. Maintain the thread, by all means, but save space by not returning the whole message, only the part to which you are replying.

        Don't use “smileys” (:-) ;-) :-/ etc.) These are fine for personal notes but are quite inappropriate for business use. The meaning of your words should be contained within the words themselves, and not need additional explanation with funny faces!

International Considerations.

        Keep messages short, but do not let meaning suffer.

        Niceties are okay, to a point, but don't overdo it. They waste space and reading time for your correspondent. Furthermore, they are usually idiomatic and difficult to understand by someone not absolutely fluent in your language. As mentioned above, people in many countries find the friendly nature of Americans over-bearing at first encounter, so, be courteous but go easy with the courtesies.

        Short, plain sentences are easier for someone reading in a language other than their mother tongue. In some parts of the world, the written language is very formal and quite different from the spoken language. Therefore, there is an expectation that your written communication will be formal. For international business e-mail, err on the side of caution and write in a formal tone. It's easy and natural to progress from formal to friendly, but it weakens your position to have to step backwards from friendly to formal.

        Regarding age and rank, outside America, people in authority and older people expect a certain deference from people who approach them.

        Don't spam. Don't send long junk. In North America, freedom is your highest ideal: in most other parts of the world privacy is held in higher regard!

Unsolicited e-mail, Junk, and Spamming.

        Unsolicited e-mail - or junk e-mail - is the electronic equivalent of junk postal mail and direct mail selling. Just as junk postal mail is considered by many to be annoying and wasteful, junk e-mail is more so. But, at least with postal mail, you can throw the envelope away unread. With junk e-mail, you have to take time to read it to find that you didn't want to. It is therefore time-wasting, inconsiderate, and very bad netiquette.

        But business acknowledges that direct mail works! How can you satisfy the need to get new customers, which by definition must be strangers to your business, and at the same time be polite. Remember our first rule: “... show consideration for the other person...”

        We hold that any business solicitation can be condensed to one line. It is unnecessary, counter-productive and quite rude to send 10 pages of details before confirming that the recipient is interested. See the next section for a practical example of this.

        Spamming is sending the same message to hundreds or thousands of e-mail addresses in the hope of hitting a few interested people. It displays extreme selfishness and total disregard for the 99%+ that are annoyed and inconvenienced by it.

        So, if you must send unsolicited e-mail in your search for new customers...

  1. Only send one-line solicitations, followed by “e-Mail for details.” People who want details will reply, those that don't, won't;
  2. Use proper bulk e-mail software that supresses the list of names; or
  3. Put the list of e-mail addresses in “Bcc” (stands for blind copies) to protect the privacy of your audience. “Cc” lets all recipients see the full list of addresses. Apart from the privacy angle, it's frustrating to receive a one line message preceded by 5 pages of e-mail addresses!
  4. Put your own e-mail address at the top of the list, as a quality check, so you can see what everyone else is receiving;
  5. End with your full name and a short, one-line signature.

An Actual Situation.

        Michael Sefiane wrote, asking the following questions:

        >I have just started my own International Import company. I would like it
        >if you could provide me with Netiquette tips on contacting and
        >communicating with International Representatives.

        Our reply...

        Considering that you are about to contact strangers 'out-of-the-blue', this gets you into a touchy area, be careful. Unsolicited e-mail (junk e-mail) can be a great nuisance to recipients. If you've been on the internet any length of time, you have received some yourself. It's much worse than junk snail-mail, and twice as annoying. It can jam up one's communication processes, especially for someone with a high profile who gets a lot of e-mail. If you do that to people, you will lose business (and deservedly so!)

        Spamming is sending the same message to hundreds, thousands of people, without considering the relevance - a rude and thoughtless act. But most businesses need to contact strangers, unsolicited. What to do? To a great extent, business people accept that businesses need to contact strangers. "Just don't annoy me in the process," they say.

        A one-line message to a narrowly defined list is Okay.

        How about--

        "We are Moda International Imports - Northwest USA. We are developing a list of contacts in (...). Please e-mail if you would like to exchange details.
                      Michael Sefiane (kalib@continet.com)"

        See how short it can be. Interested parties will reply: disinterested ones will not have been inconvenienced.

        >Also I would like to know the best way to let someone know I am not interested in or do not
        >have the time , in a polite way, to do business with them.

        Two ways to approach this-

        1. The message to you is unsolicited and clearly widely circulated. You could just not reply. Or, a simple "No thanks" if you feel you must reply.

        2. The message is clearly to you, specifically, and a reply is required. A long drawn-out explanation/excuse is unneccesary. All your correspondent wants to know is "Yes" or "No". But you want to say it as politely as possible. How about --

        "Thanks for giving us the opportunity, but conditions are that we cannot, at this time."

        That leaves it open for you, in the future, if you change your mind. Times change, conditions change - and you may be glad of that contact one day.

More thoughts on Unsolicited e-mail.

      “My role, as a marketer, is to make any solicitation both effective and unobtrusive. If I offend too many potential clients, and sell too little product, then I have failed. If I offend no-one, and sell product, then I have succeeded.”

Netiquette for Personal Communications

  1. A Beginner's Guide to Effective Email
  2. Netiquette
  3. Life on the Internet - Netiquette

Voice & e-Mail Messaging

Long Distance

Callback & Dial-around


Page created by Frederick Pearce. Pearman Cooperation Alliance
Created May 20th,1996.
Updated June 10th,1996 after comments from Joseph Chang,
and again July 3rd,1996 after discussion with Kaitlin Sherwood.
Dr. Ogden M. Forbes, of Pepperdine University, CA, contributed, July 16th,1996.
Michael Sefiane allowed his September 19th,1996 correspondence to be used.
October 25th,1996, Gina Rea suggested some additions to the "Spamming" section.
Jennine Carmichael wrote June 11th.1998, resulting in changes to 'First Names and Titles'.
Further updates April 26th, 1999.
Thanks go to these fine people, but the Author accepts all the blame.

Business Netiquette International is mirrored at The Open University, Hong Kong.