Business email dos and don’ts

While email has offered businesspeople the opportunity to communicate on a more casual level, it should always be handled professionally. Here are some helpful dos and don’ts of email communication.

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Business email dos

Business email don'ts

Business email dos:

1  Consider your readers

It is good practice to ask yourself how your readers might react to what you’ve written.

2  Provide a clear, specific subject line

Be sure it’s meaningful at a glance. If the recipient has an inbox full of messages, he or she will decide which to read based on the relative importance of senders and subjects. Users often respond to the volume of their email by using filters and rules-based agents. If your message has been filed, the recipient can find it quickly by checking the subject area.

3  Use excerpts from previous messages to clarify what you’re replying to

To distinguish the earlier text from your current responses, you can insert the ‘>’ symbol in front of the quoted material and follow it with your response. This example shows how such a text will look on your screen: 

>How about 3:00 p.m. on Thursday for the meeting?

That will work for me.

>Can we count on a report from you concerning your group’s progress?

Yes. It’ll take about five minutes.

This technique is preferable to quoting an entire message and adding ‘OK’, ‘Me too’, or ‘I agree’.

Alternatively, you can add your responses to the different parts of the email you’re replying to in a different colour, so that they can be easily found.

4  Remove long lists of recipients’ names and addresses

These require the recipient to scroll down in order to get to your message, and some of your correspondents might not like having their email addresses made available to other people. Use the BCC (‘blind carbon copy’) feature to suppress the names of other recipients.

5  Strike a balance between formal and casual language

Your message creates an image of your company and you. When communicating with upper management or customers, use a business letter format, complete sentences, and a spellchecker. Misspelled or omitted words indicate a lack of attention to detail. If you’re just trying to set up a meeting with your colleague at the next desk, a more casual style and language is appropriate.

6  Read and then reread your message before you send it

Be sure that your message is clear and grammatical. Attention to detail is as important in email as it is in other forms of written communication. Double-check the spelling of recipients’ addresses. A missed keystroke will result in undelivered mail. After sending email, check back in case you’ve received an ‘undeliverable’ error message. Save a sender’s address to your address book, which allows you to avoid retyping the address and introducing errors.

7  Key in your name at the end of your message

It identifies you as the sender, and it’s common courtesy.

8  Be careful how you present your message

Double-check your formatting. Your message may look quite different on your recipient’s screen than it does on yours. Avoid fancy fonts and the use of special characters which may result in a garbled message.

9  Acknowledge receipt of messages promptly

If you’re going to be out of the office, use auto-response messages.

10  Observe the common practices of your company

Every company has its own customs and ways of doing things. If you’re not familiar with a new system, ask someone who is before sending messages.

Business email don’ts:

Most of these rules are practices that are inappropriate in any form of business communication because they are either rude or unprofessional.

1  Never substitute email for necessary face-to-face meetings

Especially when praising work well done, reprimanding someone, or firing someone. Such communications should be handled in person if possible.

2  Never assume that email is private

Something can go wrong with any software program, and your email might be misdirected. Also, many companies monitor their employees’ email. Don’t send anything via email that you wouldn’t want your colleagues to see. If your message is highly personal or sensitive, ask for a face-to-face meeting or send it via regular mail.

3  Don’t assume that everyone reads email immediately

Email travels quickly, but speed of transmission does not guarantee speed of communication. Some people don’t check their email inbox every day. Others may set aside a particular time of the day to check their email, but respond only to messages that require immediate attention. Sometimes days or weeks can pass between when a message is sent and when it is read. If you need an immediate response, put ‘urgent’ or ‘please read immediately’ in the subject line, preceding the specific subject of the message.

4  Never send an angry message via email

There’s no time in business when such correspondence is appropriate.

5  Never send an email message written in capital letters, LIKE THIS

Using all capital letters in any context is regarded as the email equivalent of shouting.

6  Never forward jokes, spam, chain letters, or advertisements

They could annoy colleagues and potential customers.

7  Do not reply to everyone who received an email unless it’s relevant to them

If you’re simply acknowledging receipt or confirming the time of a meeting, respond only to the sender.

8  Do not use email for any illegal or unethical purpose

This goes without saying!


Back to Writing a business email.

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