Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Boon and Bane of Email

About a month ago, I quickly dashed off an email declining an invitation to an event. I am a professional business writer. I also teach business writing workshops and, like some subject matter experts, I occasionally forget to follow my own advice. In this case, I did not read through my email before sending it, so I didn’t notice a missing word. The word was “not.” I wrote, “I will attend,” instead of, “I will not attend.” I committed myself to an entire day’s activity I did
n’t want to do. 

Email makes business easier because it is fast.

Nod if you agree.

Email makes business harder because it is fast.

Nod if you agree.

Either way, you’re right.

Email is both good and bad. 

Email poses challenges because it was never really intended to be used as we are using it today. I think that the purpose and content of an email should determine how we handle it.

Email falls broadly into one of two types: conversation and correspondence.

When we use email as conversation, we are actually “talking” to someone. Once upon a time, we would have picked up the phone and called them to chat. Email conversations are usually casual and informal. However, they are still legal documents and must be factually accurate and unambiguous. Not everyone understands text messaging abbreviations; some people think LOL means little old lady or lots of love! Casual email conversations can easily trip us up as happened to me when I inadvertently committed to participate in an activity I intended to decline!

Email correspondence is anything that you would have put on a piece of paper before the advent of email. The standard rules of business correspondence etiquette still apply; the fact that it is an email is irrelevant. If an email is going outside your organization to a client, customer or vendor, it’s a letter. If it is going inside your organization, the email is a memo. In both cases, the appropriate rules of business letter or memo writing apply. 

Check out my ebook Winning with Email at I also offer an onsite training program for organizations Writing and Managing E-mail and a webinar Taking the EEEEK out of Email. Contact me at if you want more information.

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