Monday, December 17, 2007

Email: How You Write is as Important as What You Write

Years ago writing was a celebrated form of artistic expression. Great writers were masters (whether in book or letter) of using the written word to articulate and emote so that in the absence of speech each thought was clearly communicated.

The advent of electronic communications has turned everyone into a writer -- and bad writing abounds. The many forms of electronic communications (email, instant messaging, social boards, blogs, etc.), each with it’s own set of etiquettes, further blurs the line of what we think we know about writing.

In business and marketing an email is still a formal communication and we can always use a few reminders of what works for us, and what works against us. Here are my thoughts on using email (and writing) for business.

  1. Start every email with a greeting/salutation and finish with a complimentary close. Just like a written letter, treating people with some measure of formality is always respectful and appreciated.
  2. Never send a written message if you can talk (on the phone or in person) instead. No matter how good a writer you may be, conversations are always the best choice.
  3. “CC” stands for “Create Commotion.” And if discovered, “BCC” stands for “I Don’t Trust YOU!” Unless your email has a specific purpose that demands bringing other people into the conversation, leave everyone else out of it.
  4. Every email you write creates a new volume of work for the person you’re sending it to (See #2). How deep do you like the in-box on your desk?
  5. Casual language, emoticons, acronyms and other text messaging short cuts have no place in a business communication. Write like you are educated and you will stand a better chance of being treated as such.
  6. Keep messages brief and on point. Any message that force the reader to scroll down to read all of it will not get read as carefully as it was written.
  7. Never write angry. If you must don’t send it right away. Do like President Lincoln -- hang on to it for a while. Later, if your words still match your thoughts, send it.
  8. Limit the size and number of attachments you send, if you must send them at all (See #4).
  9. Be careful of what you write. It’s embarrassing if our words are later used to affirm our ignorance.
  10. Proofread! Do not rely on spell-checkers to find your mistakes. As often as you misspell words you are also making mistakes in syntax, leaving in words you thought you deleted, or simply not writing your thoughts in a way that will make sense to the person you’re sending to.

I know there are plenty more rules. These are just a good start. I look forward to hearing some of yours.