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The Business Email

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Electronic transmitting of messages has definite advantages for organisations e.g. faster transfer and access to information, faster response to requests, faster decision making, and elimination of routine and time-consuming tasks.

E-mail transfers messages quickly and inexpensively, does not depend on the availability of the receiver and reduces the amount of paper being used. The disadvantages of using e-mail are that the communication volume increases, there is a lack of message permanence if the message is not printed and there is a lack of confidentiality. E-mails have to be as equally well-planned as letters and memos. Communication breakdowns may occur of the purpose, audience and frame of reference of the reader is not considered. Professional standards should still apply.

Guidelines for Writing Professional Business Emails

1. Include a clear, direct subject line - Examples of a good subject line include "Meeting date changed", "Quick question about your presentation", or "Suggestions for the proposal." People often decide whether to open an email based on the subject line. Choose one that lets readers know you are addressing their concerns or business issues.

2. Use a professional email address - If you work for a company, you should use your company email address. But if you use a personal email account - whether you are self-employed or just like using it occasionally for work-related correspondences - you should be careful when choosing that address. You should always have an email address that conveys your name so that the recipient knows exactly who is sending the email. Never use email addresses (perhaps remnants of your grade-school days) that are not appropriate for use in the workplace, such as "babygirl@..." or "beerlover@..." - no matter how much you love a cold brew.

3. Think twice before hitting Reply All - No one wants to read emails from 20 people that have nothing to do with them. Ignoring the emails can be difficult, with many people getting notifications of new messages on their smartphones or distracting pop-up messages on their computer screens. Refrain from hitting Reply All unless you really think everyone on the list needs to receive the email.

4. Include a signature block - Provide your reader with some information about you. Generally, this would state your full name, title, the company name, and your contact information, including a phone number. You also can add a little publicity for yourself, but don't go overboard with any sayings or artwork.

5. Use professional salutations - Don't use laid-back, colloquial expressions like "Hey you guys," "Yo," or "Hi folks." The relaxed nature of our writings should not affect the salutation in an email. "Hey/Yo/Hi” are very informal salutation and generally it should not be used in the workplace. She also advises against shortening anyone's name. Avoid using nicknames in the greeting unless you are very sure the person prefers to go by that name always.

6. Use exclamation points sparingly - If you choose to use an exclamation point, use only one to convey excitement. People sometimes get carried away and put a number of exclamation points at the end of their sentences. The result can appear too emotional or immature. Exclamation points should be used very sparingly in writing.

7. Be cautious with humour - Humour can easily get lost in translation without the right tone or facial expressions. In a professional exchange, it's better to leave humor out of emails unless you know the recipient well. Also, something that you think is funny might not be funny to someone else.

8. Know that people from different cultures speak and write differently - Miscommunication can easily occur because of cultural differences, especially in the writing form when we can't see one another's body language. Tailor your message to the receiver's cultural background or how well you know them.

9. Reply to your emails even if the email wasn't intended for you - It's difficult to reply to every email message ever sent to you, but you should try to. This includes when the email was accidentally sent to you, especially if the sender is expecting a reply. A reply isn't necessary but serves as good email etiquette, especially if this person works in the same company or industry as you. Here's an example reply: "I know you're very busy, but I don't think you meant to send this email to me. And I wanted to let you know so you can send it to the correct person."

10. Proofread every message - Your mistakes won't go unnoticed by the recipients of your email. And in a business context, you will be judged for making them. Don't rely on spell-checkers. Read and reread your email a few times, preferably aloud, before sending it off. One supervisor intended to write 'Sorry for the inconvenience’. But he relied on his spell-check and ended up writing 'Sorry for the incontinence.'

11. Add the email address last - You don't want to send an email accidentally before you have finished writing and proofing the message. Even when you are replying to a message, it's a good precaution to delete the recipient's address and insert it only when you are sure the message is ready to be sent.

12. Double-check that you've selected the correct recipient - Pay careful attention when typing a name from your address book on the email's "To" line. "It's easy to select the wrong name, which can be embarrassing to you and to the person who receives the email by mistake."

13. Keep your fonts classic - Purple Comic Sans has a time and a place (maybe?), but for business correspondence, keep your fonts, colors, and sizes classic. The cardinal rule: Your emails should be easy for other people to read. Generally, it is best to use 11- or 12-point type and an easy-to-read font such as Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman. As for color, black is the safest choice.

14. Keep tabs on your tone - Just as jokes get lost in translation, tone is easy to misconstrue without the context you'd get from vocal cues and facial expressions. Accordingly, it's easy to come off as more abrupt that you might have intended  - you meant "to the point” they read "angry and curt". To avoid misunderstandings, read your message out loud before hitting send. If it sounds harsh to you, it will sound harsh to the reader too. For best results, avoid using negative words ("failure," "wrong," "neglected"), and always say "please" and "thank you".

15. Nothing is confidential so write accordingly - Always remember that EVERY electronic message leaves a trail. A basic guideline is to assume that others will see what you write. So don't write anything you wouldn't want everyone to see. A more liberal interpretation: Don't write anything that would be ruinous to you or hurtful to others. After all, email is dangerously easy to forward, and it's better to be safe than sorry.