E-mail etiquette matters in business writing

In business, every word counts, particularly when the economy is putting pressure on every decision, stress on every partnership and expectations on everybody. So don't let small mistakes in your business writing make a big impact on your potential customers. Here are 10 common e-mail errors and how to avoid them.

1. Don't forget to spell check.
We've all received resumes and letters with spelling errors. Don't make that mistake. Spell check every business e-mail or correspondence you send. In many cases, nothing can sour the tone of a future partnership faster than a grammatically incorrect correspondence filled with spelling errors.

2. Don't forget the salutation.
How many business e-mails do you receive that don't greet you by name? Starting an e-mail without a salutation is akin to starting a conversation in the middle. A salutation marks the beginning of a correspondence in a letter or e-mail, and omitting one is not professional. Worse yet, your e-mail could be confused for spam, since an e-mail without a personal salutation usually means the message went to many people simultaneously.

3. Don't forget your signature.
Everyone receives a lot of e-mail nowadays. How frustrating is it to receive one without a proper signature line? Perhaps you remember the person based solely upon his or her e-mail address, but you might not. If the e-mail seems important enough, you have to spend time investigating who sent it and what company he or she works for. Even if you do happen to remember the person, failing to include a signature demonstrates a lack of respect for the recipient's time or workload. Always include a salutation and a signature in every e-mail correspondence, even if the other person doesn't do the same for you.

4. Don't use jargon, acronyms, slang or Internet speak.
At best, using acronyms makes you look lazy. At worst, they confuse your reader. Using jargon isn't any better. Best-case scenario: You seem aloof. Worst-case: Your reader feels stupid. Examples of "Internet speak" include "LMAO," "noob," "l33t" and "ROFL." Do you know what these all mean? If you don't, how does that make you feel? Other mistakes include using slang, curse words or words that illicit the improper tone. Avoid them all. Business will rarely shy away from you for being "too professional."

5. Don't use emoticons.
A close cousin to jargon and acronyms are emoticons. Eventually you may reach an informal level of communication that warrants an emoticon, but let the other person breach this ground first. If neither of you take the first step toward the use of emoticons, that's OK - your writing will be stronger as a result of having to communicate an emotion without using a picture.

6. Don't forget the call to action.
Every business communication, on one level or another, involves some type of selling. You are selling yourself, your company, your idea, your product, your service, etc., so there needs to be a call to action. It can be as simple as ending an e-mail with an "I look forward to hearing back from you," but one way or another, every correspondence needs to inform the recipient of your expectations regarding their next step. Who knows? It may be easiest for them to follow your suggestion.

7. Don't make it the wrong length.
Business correspondence comes in a variety of forms or formats, and each one has an appropriate length. Contracts are supposed to be long and scary. E-mails are supposed to be short and sweet. Recognize what you are writing, and keep your length standardized. If you write a 100-word contract, no one is going to take it seriously, and if you write a 1,000-word e-mail, no one is going to read it. Give people what they expect at the length they expect it.

8. Don't forget you could be quoted.
Recently there was an e-mail from a company's accounting department posted on the Internet for everyone to read. It was addressed to the employees of that company, presumably with an understanding of confidentiality, since it contained private information about that company's finances. Nevertheless, there it was on a public forum. The Internet has focused a gigantic microscope on all of us. When you write something, assume everyone in the world will see it and know that it came from you.

9. Don't use absolutes.
Since you now realize your writing can come back to haunt you at any time, it is best to avoid writing in absolutes. Avoid using terms like "never" when you can use "rarely." Don't use terms like "will be" when you can use terms like "may be." Upon initial reading, the reader won't recognize the difference, and down the road, if your feet are held to the fire, words that are not absolute are more defensible.

10. Don't include unnecessary information.
In other words, cut to the chase. Since every word counts, be as succinct and applicable as possible. Including superfluous information opens you up to a variety of mistakes. It makes your writing unnecessarily long, it increases the chances of breaking one of the above rules, it communicates to the other person that you are unable to censor, prioritize or organize, and it could contain information that turns your "sale" into a "bail."

Remember, the pen (or keyboard) is mightier than the sword.

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