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    BWC21 Business Writing Skills

    BWC35 Writing Clear, Effective Email

    BWC80 Basic Business Grammar

Follow email protocol and etiquette

Know the limits for workplace email

The purpose of workplace email is to communicate business information to accomplish business objectives. If a message is not limited to business activity, it becomes another message clogging an already overloaded system. Follow these guidelines:

  1. Limit or eliminate personal messages. Office email is the property of the company that pays for the email system and should be used for company business. If you want to meet after the kids' soccer game on Saturday, call about it.

  2. Don't send confidential information by email. Email is more like a postcard than a private letter. Always assume that email may be misused, misdirected, or intentionally forwarded by others. If you must convey confidential information, send a letter or speak in person.

  3. Don't send unnecessary email. Remember that taking time out to read email is always a distraction that becomes worse as the amount of mail sent increases year by year.

  4. Remember that your email messages become your image, professional and otherwise, in the reader's perception of you and your company.

Be careful about forwarding emails.

Be careful about forwarding someone's email to third parties without the writer's permission to do so. Emails have taken on a markedly non-confidential nature. They are forwarded so easily that business people routinely route emails without letting the writer know.

However, consider the ramifications and whether the writer would not want the email to be read by others. If you sense that you might be creating a problem, contact the writer.

Respond as quickly as possible.

You probably have received emails you've put off responding to or perhaps did not respond to at all. Perhaps these mails were unclear and wordy, or they dealt with unpleasant or unnecessary subjects. Or perhaps you simply didn't have enough information to respond at the time.

However, you should always respond to your emails. To ignore an email is unprofessional and rude. It also wastes everyone's time, since the sender may have to contact you by phone or in person. Always respond to your emails, even if it's only to acknowledge you can't provide a meaningful response right away. An email saying "I can't write much now" is far better than no response at all.

Be courteous, direct, and professional.

Always be courteous, direct, and professional. Remember that electronic transmissions are NOT private. They could be circulated around the customer's company, a competitor's company, or upper management in your own company. They have been and will continue to be used as evidence in court cases. If the topic of your communication is sensitive, use a more secure form of communication.

  1. Don't say anything you wouldn't say in a face-to-face meeting in a business setting. Corporate email is not a place to vent frustration.

  2. Don't use irony or sarcasm. Because the subtleties of voice or body language are missing, your message may lead to misunderstandings. Be careful about humor when it could be misinterpreted.

  3. Don't put your anger into writing. It leaves a permanent record you may be sorry about later. Email can be a tempting forum for venting since it allows you to express anger without having to confront someone face to face. But it is an inappropriate medium. Use the real strength of email that allows you to cool down and consider what you say carefully to communicate messages that let the reader know your point, but don't burn.


You receive the following email from someone in the company:

Hey Melissa,

Whatever were you thinking in the meeting today? That report of yours . . . what was that all about? You were off the track without a train, in my opinion. Disorganized presentations like that will never get off the ground. Get a clue.


The writer should not have been abrasive. However, your response should be professional without being stiff, direct without being confrontational:


I understand why you saw my comments as disorganized. When we were asked to bring in creative ideas for brainstorming, that's what I did. To me, creative means imprecise (disorganized) ideas that aren't yet set in stone.

I value your input on our committee report. So, let's get together for one more work session before our next meeting.


Remember, reacting to someone else's anger will only lead to more anger. Your best bet is to defuse the anger as much as possible. Make the buck stop with you.

Don't gossip.

You lose your personal identity when you sit in the company's chair at the company's computer to respond to the company's email. Remember that you are not buddies with the reader, even if you have been working with him or her for ten years. Reserve gossip for your time having coffee after work.


You receive this email from a friend in the company:


I'm so glad you finally got this mess straightened out! You seem like the only sharp shooter in your whole company. I didn't believe for an instant that Human Resources lost my forms, but that's what they told me yesterday. I think it's an out and out lie! At least I can count on your honesty. I don't know how you can stand to work here.


You respond:


It does seem incredible that Human Resources could have lost your forms. Perhaps they were just filed incorrectly. I know from working with them that they handle thousands of personnel files daily and are overworked.

Thanks again for writing. I appreciate your kind words and am always happy to help a friend!


Communicate negative issues by focusing on the issue, not the person.

One unfortunate consequence of using email rather than the phone or face-to-face conversation is that emails have become an easy medium for venting anger. The person isn't on the other end of the phone or standing before you. It becomes much easier to write things you wouldn't say.

If it hasn't happened to you, it will eventually. Someone will use harsh and blaming language to set you straight in an email rather than calling or speaking to you in person. After all, it's a lot more comfortable to dash off an email so you don't have to talk openly with someone. That makes it easier to be harsh because the person isn't wincing in front of you when you write the words.

Be tactful and remember that you will have to work with this person. Make the issues clear, but focus on them without being harsh and blaming. The email medium makes it too easy to be abrasive. Consciously avoid it.

The strength of email is that you can consider carefully what you communicate before sending it. You can calm down and delete the harsh language but make sure the issue is clear. Use that strength to help people become more competent and to build relationships so you can work together more easily.


You receive this email from a new intern in the mailroom:

Mr. Garcia,

I can't believe this. I found that contract you've been asking about. It was stuck under a seam in the mailbag. I'm really sorry. I hope this has not caused you any panic. From now on, I'll make sure I shake the bag upside down real good before I start my daily mail sorting.


You respond:

Hello Anthony,

Yes, that letter was a very important contract, as you know. I'm certainly glad to learn that, in fact, it was mailed as my client confirmed.

I'm thankful you found it. Now, everything is in place to start negotiations. Again, thanks for updating me, and thanks for your effort to double-check in the future. That's all anyone can do.

Carlos Garcia

Remember that mistakes do happen and that the person reading your message is someone you work with on a regular basis. Don't say anything in the email you wouldn't say in person.

Use humor cautiously or not at all.

The written medium doesn't have the advantages speaking has. The reader can't see the writer's face to see whether he or she is kidding, and the writer can't read the reader's face to see whether it has a shocked look on it so the writer can correct a misimpression. Humor can seem good-natured to the writer but offensive to a reader

In general leave humor, sarcasm, and innuendo out of emails. It may be received very badly and doesn't do anything for your message.

Clean up the email before sending it.

Show the reader you are interested enough in communicating to clean up the email before sending it. If you use the "Reply" function to send the email, change the subject line to describe the new email's contents. Delete all the old email copy not relevant to the email.

Cleaning up the email will show the reader you regard him or her highly enough to take care in what you send. Sending a messy email is like sending a letter in a used envelope. It shows the reader you don't care about the message or the reader.

Learn to manage your email.

Business people feel pressured by the swarms of email that come into their computers. However, they are contributing to their own problem by the way they manage their email.

To manage your email effectively, don't send unimportant email, include the information necessary for the reader to respond without repeat emails for clarification, handle each email only once, and manage your time so emails don't become oppressive.