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Tips for Better Email Messages

Email is an essential business communication tool due to its speed, ease of use and its inherent means to create documentation.  There are also considerable disadvantages to using email (e.g. its impersonal nature and its power to create miscommunication) which should be considered when determining which communication method to use. Sending or receiving ill-conceived or improper email via your work account can lead to embarrassment and even disciplinary action. The following are tips to improve email communication:

Keep it short and sweet. Email is not a form of communication that lends itself to long missives. If you send long emails (e.g. product description to a potential client, a clarification of departmental policy to your colleagues), ensure that you discuss the details in person as well as in your email, since relying on your email to communicate all the details often fails.

Avoid discussing sensitive information. Email may not be private despite the sender’s intention to share information with select individuals.  It is far too simple for the recipient of your email to forward it to others. Remember that your company can access any email going into or out of your account. It is wise to always assume that people other than the intended recipient could read your email.

Know when to use email or when to have a discussion in person or over the phone. It is common to attempt to use email for a variety of purposes for which it is usually not ideal. Activities such as brainstorming an idea or managing/critiquing others is usually best to do in person or over the phone.  Email does not communicate unspoken nuances the same way as personal communication. People are often not as “present” when they read email as they are in a real-time meeting and emails may lead to emotional responses by the recipient.

Send email only to those who will want or need to see it. Don’t “cc” emails about your company’s Widget Version 4.0 project to those who have no part in the project. Don’t hit “reply all” if your message is really meant just for the person to whom you are responding. Don’t send that joke about the pope, the rabbi and the e-business consultant to everyone in the office. Most company policies prohibit emails that could be perceived as discriminatory or harassing in nature.

Give your email context. A message without context is a message that’s likely to be deleted as soon as it’s read. Use your email’s subject line to clearly communicate the topic. Don’t say “FYI” when you mean “Widget Version 4.0 Q3 revenue estimates.” Use a salutation and include your electronic signature to ensure those who are forwarded or copied on the email will be able to understand who is speaking. Finally, consider using the cut/paste feature to include snippets of earlier emails followed by your specific response to each snippet.

Spell recipients’ names correctly. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how often people misspell their coworkers’ names. If the person to whom you’re emailing is named “Kerry,” make sure you don’t address her as “Kerri.” It implies that the recipient is not important enough for you to take the time to address her correctly.

Email systems are for business use.  The email system is the property of the company and is designed to be used for business purposes. Excessive personal use of the email system negatively impacts productivity and may be grounds for disciplinary action including termination of employment.

The Employers Association

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