Before the wide-spread use of telephones, business people communicated by writing letters. They were trained and experienced in the fine points of written communication, an art that has been all but lost to us in current times. Oddly, email has resurrected the need for written communication skills, but with the twist of speed and frequency. We can now send an astonishing number of correspondences a day, often typing quickly and hitting "Send" without proofreading for mistakes or flawed content.
Emails, however, should never be viewed as fluffy or relaxed. They must be seen as the legally binding documents they are and must be given the same care and formality as conventional correspondence. Electronic communication has become one of the most important tools of the business world. Professionally prepared emails can offer a competitive edge to any company, as well as shield you and your company from many liability pitfalls.
Therefore, emails should be written with the same care and skill as the paper letter. Here are some emailing tips:
- Don't put aside your complete sentences, correct grammar, paragraphs, formal salutations, etc. simply because your correspondence is in electronic form.
- Subject lines can be used as an eye-catching tool. Consider carefully your wording here.
- Emails should never be written in all upper case or all lower case.
- Never use chat room jargon, such as, lol.
- Never use symbols such as =) or ;) in business emails.
- Choose a readable font and point size with an estimated 65 characters per line maximum.
- Margins should not be so wide that the document can only be read by scrolling to the right.
Quick replies give emails a decided time advantage over conventional correspondences and should be sent within 24 hours of receipt; however, don't reply in haste. Editing before sending can save you countless problems caused by rash, incomplete, unreadable, misdirected, thoughtless emails. (This applies to attachments as well.)
Automatic replies to incoming emails can be a time saver when responding in a casual environment; however, they should be avoided in the business world unless they state the receiver is out and the date they will return to the office.
Emails, like letters, should be customized for the reader. If you need to use a time-saving device, consider using a template rather than an auto reply.
If you decide to add a quote to your email, use ellipses (...) and quote only the relevant part(s). Copying an entire passage or email for someone to weed through will only be seen as a negative because none of us have time to read through useless information.
In our format unit, we gave an example of a "bc:" or "blind copy." A blind copy indicates that others have received copies of the correspondence, but that those names are being kept confidential. Emailing follows the same course when multiple copies are sent. Use the blind carbon copy (BCC:) function which will allow a mass mailing without publishing the email addresses of other recipients.
When you use formatting in your emails, whether or not the receiver can view your formatting depends on the email program she is using. The recipient may also see different fonts than you had intended. Be aware that when you send an email in rich text or HTML format, the sender may only be able to receive plain text emails. If this is the case, the recipient will receive your message as a .txt attachment. However, most email clients, including Microsoft Outlook, are able to receive HTML and rich text messages.
Electronic correspondence has the same privacy rules as conventional writing.
You would never copy a hardcopy business letter and pin it up on the company bulletin board or put a copy in everyone's inbox or mail out copies to your friends. So remember, the ease with which you can duplicate and send emails does not warrant doing so.
Ultimately, conventional paper letters may still be best if confidential information needs to be sent. Emailing adds a decided risk of having that information become public.
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