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Your Guide To Writing Email That Works

Posted on Sun, Mar 22, 2009

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Electronic mail. “Evidence mail.” E-mail.

Here’s the type of story that no longer shocks us: recently, 400 employees at the RadioShack Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas, were fired by e-mail. The electronic message read:

“The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated.”


While this is an extreme example, you probably receive several e-mails a week that would qualify as offensive, ambiguous, irritating, unnecessary or even outrageous. Every day, business people shoot themselves in the foot after they hit the send button.

How can you avoid an e-mail faux pas that could wreak havoc on your career? Read ahead for the rules of the road, and learn to stand out as a savvy e-mail pro.

#1: Treat all e-mail as if written on company stationery

Don’t write in an e-mail anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable putting in your own handwriting on a piece of your company’s letterhead. When you send an e-mail message, or any message, you are indirectly conveying an impression of your company. For the recipient’s convenience, always include your name, position, and phone number at the end of your message.

#2: Don’t send personal messages

The expediency of e-mail means that we all use it to send personal messages from time to time. Overall, this is okay if you keep a few things in mind. For a number of companies, the large volume of personal e-mail has devalued the effectiveness of their e-mail system overall, so the best advice is to try to never send personal e-mail from work. If you do send them, indicate they are “low priority” and write “personal” in the subject line.

#3: Don’t send it if you are angry or upset

For the most part, e-mail isn’t the best venue to express serious emotions. But, if you truly believe e-mail is your only option to address an important issue, go by the 24 hour rule. Don’t send your e-mail immediately, but instead save your e-mail as a draft and revisit the message 24 hours later. Nine times out of ten, clicking the send button seems significantly less tempting a day later.

#4: Be careful with attachments

When attachments are used appropriately, they are invaluable to the recipient. Used incorrectly, however, and they can be annoying or even infect the recipient’s computer with a virus. Some simple rules to follow:

• Ask if your recipient has the correct software to open your attachment

• Don’t send large attachments

• Give your attachment a meaningful name

• Always secure confidential attachments

#5: Don’t ever assume that e-mail is the best method of communication.

Very often, a hand-written note, phoning, or meeting face-to-face is more appropriate. E-mail is more convenient and it can be tempting to use e-mail to delegate work, give bad news, or deal with an awkward situation, but your recipient may have preferred a lunch meeting or a simple phone conversation. Before you send an important e-mail ask yourself, “Is this the best way to deliver this message?” Still unsure? If all else fails, proceed the way you would have before e-mail was an option.

Back to RadioShack…by choosing the convenience of e-mail to lay off hundreds of employees, RadioShack alienated their workers, and, once the media got wind of the incident, a PR disaster was created. The entire dehumanizing event could have been avoided had the company stopped to consider the best method of communication given the circumstances of the situation. In this case, quick face-to-face meetings would have made a world of difference to the employees who were let go. Follow the above straightforward suggestions, and you’ll always communicate your messages in the most suitable way possible.

Some of the advice within the above tips was found in:

The things that really matter about Writing Business E-mails by Jonathan Whelan
(How To Books Ltd., 2000)

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders


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