Tips for email communication in the workplace

Sunday, October 16th, 2005 by Chris Jason

Email has become second nature for many people. While it is quick and easy to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues via email, there are several things to keep in mind when sending email in a business environment. Follow these suggestions and you’ll be less likely to be called in to your boss’ office for a “talk.”

Always start communications with a formal email

Even at work, many people equate “email” to “informal.” This is simply not the case. When writing an email to another professional, whether in-house or to a person in another company, make sure your tone is formal and professional. In many situations, your email message might be your first contact with the person. By using a formal tone you will be taken seriously. You will also establish your credibility as someone who knows what the hell they’re talking about. Crediblity is good, especially at work.

At the very least, a formal email should have an appropriate greeting and close:

Mr. Wiley:

Please find the attached October Expenses Report in Microsoft Excel format (.xls).

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or need further assistance.

Best regards,
John Doe

Formal emails, like formal letters, start with the recipient’s name followed by a colon (:), not a comma. Commas (as in “Dear Mr. Wiley,”) indicate an informal relationship typical of a friendly letter. Only after your recipient has “broken the ice” should you use informal writing. Some indicators that it’s ok to use informal emails the second time around are:

Use a specific subject with a date

As you probably know, email has become just as much a nuisance as a useful tool. “Forwards” from friends, “e-vites” from family, and SPAM from everyone else are enough to drive a person nuts. Even at work, people are bombarded with just as much garbage mail as real messages.

To prevent your message from getting lost in the pile, use a specific title with a date. Here’s some bad titles:

And here’s some good titles:

If a person can read your title and know what your email is about, you’ve succeeded. If they have to read your entire email to figure it out, you should be using better titles.

As much as possible, keep the email concise

In all professional and technical communication, the goal is to be as clear and concise as possible. Email is no different. By keeping your messages short, you will reduce the likelihood that the reader will skip or misread key information.

Sometimes you will have no choice but to send a long email. If this is the case, do your best to break up the copy by “chunking” content and using headings and lists. This will enable the person to scan your message quickly and read it completely only if they need to.

Include your contact information

This can be accomplished in two ways: 1) by manually working your email address and phone number into the copy, or 2) by including an email signature. An email signature is probably the best choice, since most email clients enable you to set up your signature (name, job title, email address, website, etc.) once and automatically have it included at the bottom of every message you send.

Include the original message in your reply

Most email clients will include the original message by default. If this setting is enabled, the original message is included at the end of your message in italics or with >> preceding each line. This is a huge time saver. By including this email trail, you eliminate the need for you or your contact to search old emails for memory refreshers.

Final thoughts on emails

By using an appropriate tone, keeping your writing concise, using specific subjects, and including your contact information in your messages, you will greatly improve the readability and effectiveness of your emails. Communicating clearly saves you and your contacts time.

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