Email: Most misinterpreted form of communication

An email that comes off abrasive to some might be concise to others. Clear the confusion with these tips on writing friendly and professional emails.

According to my wholly unofficial poll, emails are more likely to be misinterpreted than any other form of business communication. The writer dashes off a friendly note, but the reader perceives an abrupt tone. You soften the message with a smiley face, and I think “What a flake.”

Here are some guidelines for friendly but professional emails:

  • Say hello, but don’t get chatty. Pretend it’s a business call. You would greet me, but you wouldn’t ask if I was enjoying the spring weather.
  • Don’t start with a name. When I see “Deborah:”, I assume I’m going to be lectured or instructed.
  • Break out the positive language. Don’t go over the top. I recently got a direct mail piece that said, “We were unbelievably excited to see you at the conference!” But let me know you care.
  • Don’t free-associate. Repetition and long sentences might sound endearing on the phone, but they look disorganized on the page.
  • It’s OK to be a little informal. Avoid stilted language and phrases like “As per our conversation, the attached …”
  • Don’t get personal. Ever. Imagine your email on the gigantic screen in Times Square, and make sure it won’t embarrass you if the whole world read it.

Deborah Gaines is a business writer and former law firm CMO who blogs as The Corporate Writer.

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