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Email Etiquette: This is Not a Text Message

When email messages first began replacing traditional business letters and memos, business writers had to learn how to tweak their messaging to effectively communicate in this new medium. And just as professionals were getting the hang of email writing, along came text messaging.

Millions of people use texting as their preferred form of communication, and Millennials have grown up texting and using smart phones as a way of life. As more people rely on small mobile devices, typing is going the way of handwriting. Even for skilled techies with flexible thumbs, typing on a mobile screen takes longer and leads to more errors than typing on a computer keyboard.

But just because texting is beginning to rule informal communication and even enter business messaging, emails should still reflect a professional approach for etiquette and clarity. Here are a few reminders:

  • Writing emails too casually is riskier than leaning toward a formal tone. Use complete sentences to convey important information and write more like a memo or letter than like a text. In other words, don't assume the reader gets inferences; develop sharp and complete thoughts. Email messages do not convey tone and meaning as well as conversation. As long as your writing is concise and to the point (vs. academic in style and full of unnecessary words) you get your message across and make a professional impression on recipients.

  • One of the biggest invaders from the world of text messaging is use of abbreviations (thx, for ex.). Use full words for email messages.

  • Remember – and use – traditional rules of language and grammar. That includes punctuation and capping words that begin sentences. It also means that business writers should not overuse punctuation, especially the exclamation point, in email messages.

  • Use a salutation. Sure, it's faster to simply answer a question or send a reminder to a client or employee with a few words. But you open with "Dear xxx" or when less formal, at least say, "Hi xxx."

  • Likewise, close your email message. "Thank you" can go a long way toward ensuring your tone is understood.

  • Keep subject lines brief and on message. It's tempting to jazz up subject lines to improve open rates or for fun, but the subject line should accurately reflect the content of the message. Examples are: "September 8 meeting," or "Response to your product inquiry."

  • Reply promptly. People can make important decisions about companies with which they'll do business based on correspondence and promptness of reply or action. Ignoring a legitimate email message is in effect an insult. And email is no different from paper in one respect: Time management experts often have said to handle each piece of paper only once. Why read an email message, close it, move on to other tasks and then go back to the message later? Even if you're swamped, you can compose a reply. If you're too swamped to deal with some messages, wait to open them and then set aside time to give them the attention they deserve.

  • Having said that you should always reply, consider not replying at the end of an email back-and-forth conversation. If you've already handled the matter, there is no need for two or three more messages to thank the recipient again.

In short, email messages might be less formal than the old-fashioned letter, but they are important vehicles for communicating information and setting first (or last) impressions.

See more tips on writing email on our blog, and contact Business Writing That Counts! if you need to improve your email message writing and etiquette email at or 425-485-3221

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