Be Smart About Email

Posted February 25, 2013 by Guest Writer in On the Ladder

Email remains the primary form of communication in business, even though smartphones, IM, texting and social media have brought a more casual style of writing to the workplace.

So how do you strike the right balance in your business email? Remember that the basics of good writing remain unchanged, even though the tone may be more flexible thanks to the new communication tools. In deciding how to write an email, be guided by who’s receiving it, what the culture is like at that person’s organization, whether you’re sending it to one individual or a group and what the correspondence is about.

If a more casual style is suitable, use it. For formal business communications, make that your tone. Always remember that any communication sent out under your name reflects on you – and you never know who else will see it. Here’s how a Fortune 500 communication professional sums it up. “We must be accountable for our communication, regardless of the platform,” said Marc Rice, Southern Company’s corporate communication account executive – environment.

Be sure you use email to its best advantage. Treat it as an opportunity to put your best foot forward. Your boss could forward your message to a senior executive, giving you unexpected visibility. A client in one division of a company could forward your email to a different division that is considering hiring you for a project. Your note of thanks to a colleague, copied to her boss, could end up with the head of human resources, saying as much about you as it does about the colleague.

Take these extra steps to be sure your email correspondence works for and not against you:

  • Review it. Check your message for content, clarity, grammar, spelling, punctuation and tone. Then see if you can shorten it because brevity is also a priority in email.
  • Spellcheck. Use spellcheck, but remember you can’t rely on it to catch all errors. For example, if you typed “you” instead of “your,” the spellcheck will miss it because both are words.
  • Proof it. If the email is sufficiently important, in addition to reviewing and spellchecking it, take the time to proof it carefully – printing it out if necessary.
  • Avoid emotional emails. The speed of email can sometimes backfire on you. Messages written in anger often convey a harsh tone that is rarely well received and can exacerbate a tense situation. When time permits, draft difficult emails and review them again several hours later or the next day.
  • Don’t shout. Writing in all capitals is considered shouting in email.
  • Respond promptly. As with all business communication, respond as quickly as possible, especially when senders indicate they are on a deadline. And remember, if someone requests information from you via email, he or she has a record of when the request was made. If the request will take time to handle, then respond immediately to acknowledge it and specify when you will get back to the person.
  • Use receipt notification judiciously. Email systems can notify you when your email has been successfully sent and opened. These tools are useful, especially when you’re waiting for replies. Just remember that depending on recipients’ preference settings, they may be getting an email every time you ask for notification, which can be annoying.
  • Refrain from using the exclamation point in formal business communications. It can add a friendly touch to an email to a peer, but it is probably not appropriate for someone who is senior to you. Save the exclamations for peers, friends and family.

About the Author: Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene

About the Authors:  Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene are the authors of The Business Style Handbook, An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job, recently published in a revised and updated second edition. The premise of the book is that everybody writes for a living in today’s business world – and a style guide makes it easier to write well. Brenda and Helen have been friends since high school and are still capable of having a lively discussion about the proper use of a semicolon.

Brenda  also manages Resume Synergy, a resume consulting business, and has written a series of books focused on the job search. She is co-author of The Web 2.0 Job Finder and the author of Get the Interview Every Time: Proven Resume and Cover Letter Strategies from Fortune 500 Hiring Professionals and You’ve Got the Interview … Now What? She also coauthored America’s Girl: The Incredible Story of How Swimmer Gertrude Ederle Changed the Nation, winner of the International Swimming Hall of Fame 2010 Buck Dawson award.

Helen is director of corporate communications at a financial services company in New York. She also teaches English as a foreign language.


About the Author

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