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Ten Tips for Writing Business E-mails

Consider this. Every business e-mail you write is like a personal PR agent. What do your e-mails say about you?

by Lyndsay Swinton
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Consider this. Every business e-mail you write is like a personal PR agent. What do your e-mails say about you?

Lyndsay Swinton, creator of Management For The Rest Of Us (www.mftrou.com), offers these ten tips to ensure that business e-mails give just the right impression.

  • Stop, think then write (or don't!): Are you e-mailing to say you'd telephone when the fax goes through? Is a phone call more appropriate? Choosing the right communications medium will increase your chance of being listened to.
  • Prevent premature sending: To avoid sending a badly spelled, half written pile of rubbish, wait until you have written the e-mail before you key in the recipient's names. Hitting send too early is a painful, toe-curling experience.
  • Be professional: You lose control of your e-mail as soon as you hit 'send' so stick to professional language. Out go all "ist" comments - racist, sexist, ageist, etc. Even your own brand of oh-so-funny humor can cause offence in the wrong hands.
  • If in doubt, spell it out!: How well you know your audience will dictate whether you use short hand, jargon, abbreviations, and emoticons. If in doubt, spell it out! Always err on the side of being too polite and respectful, particularly when writing e-mails to business colleagues where translation may be required. Use the spell check and re-read your e-mail before it goes out.
  • Be precise, concise, and clear: This includes actions like keeping e-mails brief, using subject headers, using "urgent" flags sparingly, and using bulleted lists when appropriate.
  • Tailor e-mails to your audience: Always open e-mails with a hello and use the name that they signed off with, even if it's crazyhorse38! If you must send the same e-mail to loads of people, put their address in the bcc box and use just one e-mail address in the To box. This keeps the person's e-mail address private and makes it look like you've taken the time to write a personal e-mail.
  • Most people can't read minds: Writing to a career site requesting "all the stuff you have on getting a job" could at best land you with a load of bandwidth hungry information or at worst be ignored. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to get a response. Also, if responding to multiple questions embedded in a large e-mail, copy the questions into your e-mail and write your answers next to them.
  • Keep your cool: Your emotional state can slip into an e-mail without notice, with curt sentences, skipped pleasantries, and blunt asks.
  • Need to know basis: A common business e-mail warfare tactic is to cc in senior managers in the vain thought that this adds weight to the communication. Fight your fights in private so that when you really need someone else to step in, they know you mean it.
  • Be clean and tidy!: Attachments clog up networks and spread viruses. Could the salient points be passed into an e-mail? Use spam filters and delete chain e-mails or other scams and make the web world a better place.

Writing business e-mails well can make you stand out in the corporate landscape. Writing them badly can dot he same, but for very different reasons.