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By Jennifer Conroy
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning
Since it first became the preferred method of business communication, email has stood the test of time: it remains a convenient, efficient, inexpensive, and effective way to relay information to your professional contacts.
But the many benefits of email go hand-in-hand with some real disadvantages.
Because emails are sent and received instantly, there is no turning back once you push the “Send” button. Misinformation, typos, and carelessly composed statements cannot be retracted. Urgent messages can get lost in an overly cluttered inbox. And even the most skilled writers’ messages are open to misinterpretation.
Here are seven simple tips for writing smart, professional emails that deliver the right message to the right audience.
Tip #1: Think before you write
Before composing an email or responding to a message, think carefully about the importance and urgency of your message, as well as your emotional state. Do you have all the necessary facts and details that you need to make your point(s)? If not, gather all the information you need first. Does your message contain urgent or sensitive information? If so, consider whether a phone call or in-person meeting would be more appropriate. Are you feeling unsettled or overly emotional? If so, perhaps you should wait until you are ready and able to respond dispassionately.
Tip #2: Remember the human factor
In many cases, in-person communication (or a phone call, if you are dealing with a remote contact) is more appropriate than an electronic message. If the subject you hope to discuss might elicit an emotional response, remember that you cannot soften an email message with body language. In general, emails are viewed as impersonal, so you should only use them for formal and neutral situations.
Tip #3: Be mindful of tone
Because workplace emails are typically brief, they leave a lot of room for misinterpretation. For instance, an email that only contains the question “When will you be finished with your report?” could be interpreted as both a casual inquiry as well as an angry demand. Consider adding some surrounding language that can help the recipient better understand the context of your message. Avoid making jokes or using slang that could easily be misconstrued as offensive or unsavory.
Tip #4: Choose your recipients wisely
When composing an original email, use discretion when using the “CC” (or “carbon copy”) and “BCC” (blind carbon copy) fields. Remember that only the addresses listed in the “BCC” field will be invisible to the whole recipient list. And when replying to an email, consider carefully whether you should reply to the sender only or “reply all.” You can also create a new email chain if you are worried about information landing in the wrong hands.
Tip #5: Write the body of the message first
We have all experienced the anxiety that arises when you accidentally send an email before it was ready to be sent. One simple way to avoid this mistake is by filling in the “To” line last, after the email has been fully composed. This gives you a chance to proofread your message and avoid sending it out prematurely.
Tip #6: Be courteous
Good manners never go out of style, and your business emails should be polite and strike the right balance between formality and friendliness. Emails addressed to your superiors or formal business contacts should begin with a proper salutation (e.g. “Dear Mr. Jones” or “Good Morning!”) and conclude with a simple “thank you” and a request for any follow-up communication.
Tip #7: Proofread your message
While “textspeak” has taken over the instant messaging realm, it is still considered unprofessional and inappropriate for use in business emails. Write in complete sentences, keep formatting simple, use a spelling and grammar check tool, and reread your message before clicking the “Send” button. Remember that you are a representative of your company when using your business email account, and the quality of your language use is a reflection of your professionalism.
[An earlier version of this article ran in the MindEdge Learning Workshop Blog on July 13, 2018.]
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