How to write clear, professional e-mail messages

Fast and convenient, e-mail has become the predominant form of communication. The volume of mail generated is staggering. Each day billions of messages are sent by people around the world.

Because e-mail is so easy to use, writers can be a bit careless when drafting a message. E-mail messages reflect on you and your business, so treat them with the same care you do other forms of business communication.

Subject line: State, with some detail, what the subject is. For example: “Expense report for July 20 sales conference.” It’s OK to write a sentence; indeed, it’s preferred. A clear subject line helps the recipient find your message in the dozens or so received each day. Those messages also are easier to file and retrieve. If you need to discuss a second topic, create another message.

In a related matter, if at some point during an e-mail discussion you change the subject, make sure you create a new subject line. Sure, the “thread” will contain all the messages to date, but from that point forward you’re participating in a new discussion. (Ideally, you’d use a new message for the new topic, but that doesn’t always happen.) With the new – and now relevant – subject line, recipients can easily archive those accordingly.

Salutation: First names are fine if you are on a friendly basis with your reader. If not, use a courtesy or professional title. Use the full name if you’re unsure of the person’s gender.

Body copy
-Rules of grammar apply. No skimping here. Errors, especially basic ones, leave a bad impression on your readers.

– Use proper punctuation and capitalization. Watch  for  run-on sentences and letters that should be capitalized. Also, no need to SHOUT. Your message comes across loud and clear on the screen. Plus, a message written entirely in caps is difficult to read.

– Watch the tone of your message. Unlike the spoken word, e-mail does not contain voice inflection or other cues to convey your feelings.

– Avoid off-color remarks and jokes. Not only are they unprofessional, they can land you in serious legal trouble. Stick with the issue at hand, and leave the personal comments for after hours. Do not send anything you would not include on a postcard.

– Complimentary close. E-mail tends to be less formal than letters. You may use “sincerely,” but “regards” and “best regards” are acceptable.

Proofread and edit your copy: Tighten up the text, and clean up any errors. Don’t rely on spell check, as it can’t determine intent. Did you want their or there? You’re or your? Step aside for a few moments. You may spot errors you didn’t see before.

Finally, a word about e-mail etiquette. Minimize the use of “reply all.” Use “reply” unless instructed otherwise. No need for everyone else to see your response. (And you, theirs.) The person broadcasting the message can send a recap message later. This one step will keep a lot of unwanted mail from hitting inboxes.

E-mail is an important means of communicating in today’s global economy. Follow these guidelines to ensure that your messages present a clear, professional image of you and your firm.

Tom Fuszard, content writer, blog writing, pr writing, web copy



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