Email is an electronic, computer-assisted online communication tool. In the business world it is used to transmit virtually every type of correspondence the daily conduct of business requires. Simple messages, memos and letters, complex reports, tables of data, graphs and charts, blueprints, pictures, you name it. If it can be generated by, scanned into, or downloaded onto a computer, it can be electronically sent through cyberspace to another computer.
Whether delivered to the inbox of a computer located on the other side of the building, or on the other side of the world, the correspondence an email contains arrives at its destination faster than a speeding bullet. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration but the point is, email is communication at the click of a button and a speedy delivery system all in one.
In this guide you will read about writing business emails, helpful tips on formatting business email, the law and business email, and business netiquette (yes folks, Internet etiquette). Each section provides useful information and samples to assist you in becoming more proficient at using email to communicate in the business world.
The format of business email is very similar to that of a business memo. So similar, in fact, that the basic heading elements found in a business memo are programmed into the computer generated template of every email program. The communication role of business email goes beyond that of a memo, however. In order not to overlook its versatility, the formatting elements of a business letter can be inserted manually into the body of an email.
Business email functions as both an internal and an external method of communication; its three main formatting elements are the heading, the body, and a signature block. Depending upon the nature of its correspondence and, at the discretion of the writer, business email may also include a salutation and a complimentary close.
The heading of a business email consists of up to six distinct information fields. They are located at the corner of the email template, just below the tool bar.
The template itself appears automatically whenever you click on the New Mail, Reply, Reply to All, or the Forward button found on the tool bar of any email program.
Each field in the template is designed to hold specific information, the definitions of which are preprinted on the left hand margin as follows:
Some of these fields are not always visible. The BCC and ATTACHED fields, for instance, are visible only when activated by the sender and, depending on the email program, the FROM and DATE fields may not be visible on the sender's template.
The body of a business email is no different than that of a business letter or memo. The one formatting distinction is this; email programs automatically format the body in single spaced, full block style. It's a design function of the program and meant to ensure that the text of an email appears on the recipient's screen exactly as it does on the sender's.
Short paragraphs are the rule, particularly as online readers often just scan the text. Many monitors display twenty to twenty five lines at one time, making shorter paragraphs more suitable. Besides, long paragraphs are hard on the eyes and more difficult to read.
Always be considerate of your reader's time; an email that goes on for more than two pages may be better off as a letter or memo. Delivered as an attachment, a lengthy letter or memo can be printed and read when time permits.
Generally speaking, business email is sent in plain text rather than HTML. Using different font faces, colors, sizes, and styles, such as bold or italic, is extremely useful when creating documents within a word processor, but they are problematic when sent between email programs.
Besides the possibility of increasing the download time on your recipient's computer, HTML documents may not appear on one screen as they do on another. If you are unfamiliar with the distinction and are offered a choice, just select plain text and move on.
The signature block in a business email does the work of the heading or letterhead found in the format of a business letter. In other words, it supplies the contact information belonging to the sender.
This is the last item in an email. It is always located on the left hand margin below the signature line and is often separated from the body with a short line of keyboard characters. For example:
A signature block should contain all the contact information a recipient might require in order to respond to an email. It should begin with the Senders Name, Title, and Business Organization. A Physical Location, Phone Numbers, Email Address, and Web site should follow. Here is an example:
The Write Company
Bellvue, CO 80512
Web site: http://write-company.com
Including a salutation and complimentary close in a business email is governed by the same rules as those governing business letters and memos.
Formal expressions such as Dear Ms. Ortiz and Sincerely yours are suitable for letter style business emails addressed to individuals with whom you are unfamiliar. When business email functions as a memo, on the other hand, a salutation and complimentary close should be omitted altogether
More often than not, the salutation and complimentary close will be written informally, particularly after the protocols of an initial contact have been observed. For example, the simple, friendly expression in the following example:
|I appreciate your work on… and I look forward to… and so forth and so on…
Rather than being a lawless frontier, as it is often misconstrued to be, Cyberspace is actually an emerging legal battleground. In fact, Internet law and precedent are being created with every corporate lawsuit that has anything to do with the online conduct of business. As a result, corporations are implementing stricter and stricter rules governing the use of email in the business workplace.
For all practical purposes, however, the body of law that governs the world of business in general, also governs the world of business in Cyberspace. In particular, this applies to all the rules that govern business communication; emails are subject to the same rules and regulations as traditional business letters and memos on the grounds that their contents are not ephemeral or short-lived.
Email rarely disappears and is seldom irretrievable. The fact that most business emails are stored and archived on computer hard drives, servers, and backup disks, speaks to their hardiness and their reliability in an evidentiary capacity. So, next are a few legal tips. Heed them wisely.
Etiquette, a French word whose literal meaning in English is ticket, today denotes the conventionally accepted rules, or customary norms that govern proper social and professional behavior. It means having good manners, in other words. Practicing proper etiquette then, is an individual's ticket to being accepted within a desired social or professional circle.
Cyberspace is a World Wide Web of Internet connected computers playing host to a multitude of social and professional circles whose members use it for communicating and sharing information. Within its confines, there is an emerging code of conduct to which online users are expected to adhere. In the pop-culture of the computer world it is called netiquette.
The recognized conventions of proper netiquette have evolved more out of commonsense than anything else and are certainly not hard and fast rules with formal penalties for disregarding them. Consistent breaches, however, quite often result in the offender being subjected to negative peer pressure, disapproval, and eventual disdain from the more scrupulous netiquette practitioners within a given circle of Internet users.
When writing business email it's wise to remember, the old saying "the pen is mightier than the sword." It's a saying that cuts both ways. Words can be enormously destructive as well as extraordinarily constructive and so it's up to the wordsmith, which way they cut. Naturally then, words should be selected with care. Here's a general rule: be nice, be thoughtful, be mindful of your words, and above all, say unto others, as you would have them say unto you. It's the Code of the Net.
With the addition of email to the business communication arsenal some significantly new communication issues have emerged, in particular, the blurring of the line between the spoken and the written word. Consequently, a Code of the Net has begun to emerge.
Email has reduced the time lag between the sending of a conventional written message and its response, so much so, that the actual written communication it contains often takes on traits similar to that of a spoken conversation. There is a problem, however, in that participants in a spoken conversation have speech devices available to them that are unavailable in an online written exchange.
Voice inflections, tone, verbal pauses, and facial expressions, for instance, contribute to a more accurate contextual reading of a spoken conversation, helping participants rapidly perceive each other's meanings and implications. The inability to use or rely on these tools when writing or reading an email message, being problematic, has given rise to a set of techniques intended to sidestep this deficiency. However, these shortcuts often fail, or fall far short of the mark, in business email. Consequently, their use is generally considered rude, or poor business netiquette.
All business forms of communication then, including email, should be handled in a professional manner. Here is a short list of essential rules by which many Internet users abide. The beginnings of a Code of the Net, if you will.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list.
First - Avoid sloppiness: it's unprofessional. Poor grammar, spelling, and sentence structure is no more acceptable in a business email than it is in a letter or memo. Check twice for errors. Your reader will appreciate the effort.
Second - Capitalize the first letter in the beginning word of a sentence and in all proper nouns. The rules haven't changed on this. Using all lowercase letters is a shortcut attempt to indicate a conversational informality. The fact is, it doesn't work, it doesn't look right, and it can leave a bad impression. A well-written email can carry a conversational tone without breaking the rules.
Third - Avoid shouting; you can be heard without raising your voice. Using all uppercase letters in a business email can appear pretty abrasive, like somebody screaming, even though it is often intended simply to emphasize a point. Proper emphasis can be achieved simply by writing well.
Fourth - Use abbreviations and acronyms sparingly. The Internet has spawned a large vocabulary of these, but be careful. There is always the risk of confusing your reader. Acronyms, in particular, fall into the category of jargon, which is fine if they are terms your reader understands. Abbreviations intended to speed up the reading process often slow it down by impeding comprehension, which is a quick way to alienate your reader.
Fifth - Avoid using emoticons; they're too cute for serious business email. Besides, there are too many of them and your reader might not understand the meaning of more than one or two. By way of illustration, click on this list of emoticons. If an emotion needs to be expressed in an email, it can be spelled out. If you are disappointed or happy with last quarter's earnings, it's easy enough to say, "I'm disappointed" or "I'm happy."
Sixth - Answer your email. Even if all you have time for is a quick, one line response, your reader will appreciate the effort and, in fact, is expecting it; it's a professional courtesy that tells the sender that he or she is not being ignored.
Peter Connor. (1994-2024). Business Email. The WAC Clearinghouse. Colorado State University. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/repository/writing/guides/.