Though we are surrounded by a slew of shiny new social media platforms, the backbone of all digital communications, especially in business, remains email. Even though the first email was sent all the way back in the 1970s, it has not lost an ounce of its relevance after all these years, and in fact, is now more vital than ever.
As times have changed, however, so has email etiquette. What was acceptable at the turn of the century is different from what passes muster today. But fear not. I have compiled a list of the six most important rules when it comes to business emails. Take a look:
1. Write a subject line that resonates: Whether you are writing a proposal, a virtual introduction, or simply a follow-up, you want your email to get noticed and read.
In this regard, your subject line is your first, and easily most important, tool.
Quickly summarizing your email in the subject line is a great way to make sure your email does not get skipped over. By the same token, a “No Subject” email will never catch anyone’s attention, and similarly, a boring subject line will easily get ignored. So craft a short and snappy subject line that will cause them to want to read more.
Think of it as the headline of your story.
2. Keep it short: What do you do when you get an 8-paragraph email? If you are human, you tune out.
The secret is to keep your emails short and sweet to the extent possible. Not only does a shorter email save you time, but it also helps you build a good reputation as someone who respects other people’s time, and in the business world, it is essential to make this kind of impression.
Other people are just as busy as you are. Because we all skim over our emails from time to time, the details of a long email will surely get lost in the shuffle. Your emails must be short and easy to read if you want to ensure business gets taken care of.
One last note re: length. Keep paragraphs short, too. Attention spans are shorter these days. Long paragraphs are difficult to read. Keep it snappy, pappy.
3. Emojis are OK!: This is a significant – and recent – change. It used to be that emojis were seen as child’s play, literally. But not so today. Emojis help to personalize email communications. Yes, you must use them judiciously, but, that said, the right emoji at the right time helps you create rapport with the right person.
4. Use the correct tone: Work has become less formal and email has followed suit. Friendliness and being personable in your written communications are generally quite important.
Remember though that tone and intonation do not easily translate into text. Because of this, you need to be careful about using sarcasm or making facetious jokes; these can easily be misinterpreted in the context of an email.
By the same token, an email can quickly come across as rude or too-serious if there is no detectable levity (even if the words are innocuous spoken out loud.) An exclamation mark or lightly playful remark will remedy this, amigo!
5. Writing is re-writing: You. Must. Proofread. Period. While this tip may seem obvious, there are plenty of people who still forget to proofread their emails before they send them off. Using “i” instead of “I” for instance makes your look sloppy, immature, or both.
Look for obvious spelling and grammatical errors, but also make sure your email is readable, organized, and formatted properly. For example, if you notice two different topics in one paragraph, you should take the time to break up that paragraph into two smaller ones. Proofreading your emails will make you look smart and will make it easier for your recipient to give you the response you need.
Writing is re-writing.
6. Remember, nothing is private: This is the key rule for using the internet generally, and email specifically. Only the illusion of privacy exists in email. People forward on emails, they bcc people, they copy and paste, etc. There is no privacy in email.
Although email has evolved throughout the years, the basic rules remain the same. Common sense (and good grammar) can see you through.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success.© Steven D. Strauss
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