Business Email “Netiquette”

A combination of the words “network,” and “etiquette,” the term “netiquette” is basically what has been called good manners, applied to technology.

NetiquetteBut while most of us can state a few of the universals (such as using all capital letters can be interpreted as shouting – don’t do it), which indeed is universally the case, there are distinct differences between email in business, emailing friends and family, and email in the school situation, to be considered.

For example, some authorities recommend using emoticons (smiley faces, frowning faces, and so on) as good shortcuts – in the informal situation. Most agree they should not be used in a business email. So let’s take look at six serious tips for effective business email netiquette.

1. Many companies and organizations provide a sort of style manual with netiquette guidelines to clarify for their employees what is acceptable, and what is not, in their emails. In addition to matters of safety, basic courtesy, and privacy, these guidelines define how that company, or that organization wants to be represented to its various email audiences.

2. Do not send to a list, or “reply all” without first knowing who is on that list, and removing anyone who does not need to receive a particular email. Time after time, in every discussion of effective email, the winner of the “ineffective award” is the practice of sending everything to everyone. A major time-waster within the organization, a source of irritation, and an invitation to the potential reader to delete without reading. This result is compounded when the writer becomes known for sending, or replying to all – whether they need the information, or not.

3. Be careful of the tone you use. While you obviously are not about to correct a client, or a superior in your organization, avoid the temptation to “reply all” – especially when a co-worker makes a mistake – maybe a spelling error, using the wrong word, giving an overlong answer, or asking a “stupid question.” It’s important to maintain a teamwork mentality. Minor errors internally can often be ignored. If the error is more serious, discuss the issue privately, or with an email only to the individual involved.

4. Don’t impose on your reader’s time. Keep your messages focused, and as short as possible. Many people use mobile devices and phones for email, in most cases making a long message difficult to read. Focus will help to get your email read, make your point, or provide information as quickly, and as briefly as possible.

Keep in mind that while the common abbreviations, e.g., LOL (laugh out loud), BTW (by the way), or BRB (be right back) are used to write faster, and shorten the message in an informal email, they are neither professional nor appropriate in the business situation.

5. Avoid giving offense. Keep in mind, and be sensitive to the cultural and language differences among your readers. Use good taste certainly in the business situation, and also when writing to your other email readers. Avoid profanity, slang that could be misunderstood, and rude, hurtful, or judgmental comments. Things that may seem funny when spoken often come across the wrong way in email.

6. Be professional. Use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Spellchecker can be a good starting point, and your spelling, grammar, thesaurus, and dictionary tools are just a fingertip away. Be sure to do a final personal “eyeball check” before hitting “send.”

Additionally, use a professional email address for business correspondence. Avoid an address that could be construed as too informal, suggestive, or carry a possible negative connotation.

Please comment below, and share your favorite email pets and peeves!

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Hello 2014 – Fare Well, 2013!

Over last weekend, I’ll bet many of you, like me, were busy packing away ornaments, deciding which candles can be used again, and trying to find a youth organization to give our retired trees to for recycling. Or at least, again, like me – thinking about it!

And now it’s serious back-to-work time. Time to try something new. I’m not quite ready for 2014 yet – what happened to 2010, anyway? So, with a final salute, let’s wrap up 2013 with the Best of the Blog – a short collection of my top nineteen posts of that year, as judged by the number of “likes” each garnered. An “e-book” for want of a better name, and the first e-book I’ve ever done.

I’d like to give this compilation to you as a thought-starter. A new way of thinking about your writing. Or maybe as a way to address a New Year’s resolution to strengthen your on-the-job writing, making it faster, easier, and more effective. Totally free. Please email me (gail@gailtycer.com), and I’ll send you the free link.

We’ll talk about:

1. If You’ve Ever Said, “I Wasn’t Good at English in School…” Read This!

2. How to Say It When You Can’t Think of What to Say

3. Shorter, Fewer Emails

4. Strategic Email

5. Meeting Minutes

6. Writing a Successful Instruction

7. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Getting Started

8. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Finishing Strong

9. How to Write a Business Thank You Note

10. Nine Places to Find Ideas for Your Blog Post

11. “Spin”

12. Hide, Hedge, Mask, and Cloud?

13. How to Offend, Anger, or Frustrate Without Realizing It

14. How Many Common Writing Errors Do You Make?

15. Stronger, More Powerful Sentences

16. What Was That Again?

17. Words That Create Mix-Ups

18. Words, Words, Words…

19. Fatigue-Reducing, Confidence-Building Phrases

We’ll also include a few of our weekly Quick Tips, answering some of those pesky grammar questions.

So here’s to 2013, wrapped up with a bow – and on to a great new year: 2014. Let me know how I can help you to achieve your business writing goals this year. I’m totally committed to helping you write less, say more – and get results in 2014.

If you like what you’re reading, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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A Heartfelt Thank You, and More About Email

May you have a truly joyful holiday season! Thank you so much for being a loyal reader of this weekly blog. Your emails and comments mean a great deal.

Now let me share a couple of emails on last week’s postHappyHoliday240:

“That first tip is such a good idea. I got one message from someone I doubt would have sent it if she had taken the time to think it over before sending – and perhaps would have modified the tone. It changed my opinion of her permanently….I think prompt replies are a must, too. Your ideas certainly make for a more civil society.”

Thank you, Carla. Not only is a “civil society” a more pleasant environment to live in, but in the business situation, leads to greater productivity!

“I enjoyed your latest post. I learned Tip #1 the hard way when I inadvertently sent something out prematurely. It wasn’t a disaster, but it conditioned me to the possibility, so any sensitive e-missive gets addressed after it’s finished.”

“I have another email tip….use structure to make your emails easy to absorb….My rule is  ‘aim for one screen’s worth, but spread it out so people can see the whole, note the pieces, and get to your point quickly.’”

Thank you, Harry. I like to say that writing is a visual art. How it looks on the screen (or on paper) can determine how – or if – your reader will “get it,” remember it, and act on it.

Here’s another email tip for today:

There are four types of email: (1) The original email; (2) the reply; (3) the cover letter for an attachment; and (4) the attachment. Each is handled slightly differently.

(1)   In the original email, aim for one paragraph, not more than five lines. This should work for at least half of your emails, if you tell your reader who-what-when-where-how.

(2)   Many times, the reply, like the original you are replying to, can be answered in one paragraph, five lines or less. In no case should either the original, or the reply, be longer than a screen to a screen-and-a-half. If your reply needs to be longer than that, make it an attachment with a cover letter.

(3)   The cover letter will be short. Most of the time it will be that one paragraph, not more than five lines, telling the reader why you are sending the attachment, and what he or she is to do with, or about it, and when.

(4)   The attachment should be concise – that is, as short as you can make it, while still giving all the information needed. It can be printed out for the reader to read more easily. Printing it out reduces the potential irritation caused to the eye, as well as to your message, when there is too much to read comfortably online.

See you next week!

If you like what you’re reading, please subscribe to our blog.

We’ll be happy to bring a Gail Tycer workshop to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Five Ways to Strengthen Your Email

WomanatComputer175

Have you ever had an email “send” before you were ready to turn it loose? Who hasn’t experienced this awkward moment and its subsequent follow-up? Today, let’s talk about the fail-safe way to avoid this situation, as one of our five ways to strengthen your email.

1. A participant in one of my workshops came up with this tip: To avoid “sending” before you are ready, leave the “to” line blank until you are ready to send. Check your piece over for grammatical, usage, and strategic missteps, and then address and send it.

2. Consistently reply promptly, and you will stand out in a very positive way. One of the most common questions asked is always, “How do I get people to respond to me?” At all. Let alone promptly. If you do not have the answer at your fingertips, or do not have time to provide a lengthy answer right then, answer that email with a reasonable expectation for the reader, e.g., “I will send that information later this afternoon.” Or, “I can have that report for you by Friday.” This is what our reader needs. This is what we need to do.

3. Watch the tone of your email carefully. Texting has become the “short answer” medium. Frequently you’ll see “Yes.” Or “Can’t.” or “Don’t know.” But email has a little more leeway. So, with email, keep your message as short as you possibly can, and still provide the information using the best tone. Any message of more than a screen to a screen-and-a-half should be broken into a “cover letter,” and an attachment. The reader’s eyes have a virtually unconscious reaction to reading on the screen, which may cause irritation – both to the reader’s eyes and to your message!

4. Remember that there are four types of email: (1) the original that you write; (2) your response to someone else’s email; (3) the cover letter for (4) the attachment. Decide which you are writing, especially if it is just a one-paragraph cover letter for the attachment, where the “meat” of your message may be found.

5. Conventional wisdom says limit each email to one subject, and use the subject line only for that subject (as compared against carrying on with the same subject line for a variety of subjects). Good advice. It’s so much easier to find your message if you do this. Where the problem comes in is when you have a lot of different issues to discuss – each of them short, and in total all of them over-populating your reader’s in box. In this case, consider using an umbrella subject line covering the overall purpose of the email, or enumerating the two or three issues the email may deal with.

See you next week!

If you like what you’re reading, please subscribe to our blog.

We’ll be happy to bring a Gail Tycer workshop to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Five Tips to Get Your Email Read and Answered

by Alan Taylor, Guest Blogger

TwoBusinessPeopleEmail today is both a blessing and a curse. While it is a quick and effective way to communicate, it can also be a huge burden when used to avoid personal contact or when used excessively. If you work for a mid- to large-sized company, chances are you deal with well over 100 email messages a day – a majority of which are either unnecessary or unnecessarily long. Chances are also – big company or small – that you don’t respond to every email that needs responding to – even with the best of intentions. With that in mind, here are some tips to help you get your email read and an answer to your email faster:

1.     Be brief – Get to the point and stop. If it takes more than two paragraphs to make a point, the subject most likely requires a face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation. There are great benefits in live discussions that typically aren’t realized in email. Another way to be brief: Don’t repeat yourself.

2.     Keep to one subject per email – Covering numerous disparate subjects in a single email bogs the reader down. Each additional subject distracts from the others and typically ends with lost actions and confused responses. If you need to list multiple items within a single subject, use bullets or numbers to keep things organized.

3.     Take advantage of the subject line – be as descriptive as possible in the subject line. Instead of “Important Reminder,” say “Important Reminder: 7/23@5:00PM Charity Run, don’t forget water.” This lets the reader get most of the information in the subject line. The body of the email can then be used to list additional reminder items. OR:

4.     Use only the subject line – (If you work for a very large company, like Intel, you probably already know this) If your email is only a reminder to bring water to an already-announced run, use (EOM – End Of Message) in the subject line: “Important Reminder: 7/23@5:00PM Charity Run, don’t forget water (EOM).” Readers learn quickly and also appreciate brevity in emails. The first few times you use this, you can include the phrase “(EOM) means ‘End Of Message’” in the email body. After that you can just send the email with no body message. Win, win: You save time by not having to repeat yourself in the email body and your reader gets the message without having to open your email. It’s like an Instant Message when you don’t have the recipient’s IM address!

5.     Highlight actions needed – If there is specific action in an email that someone needs to take, highlight it using asterisks or underlines. Don’t use all caps (it looks like you’re shouting). This helps the reader focus on the items needing action.

A large reason Instant and Text messaging is so popular is the forced brevity of the messages. If email were forced to 140 characters or less, chances are there would be a big productivity jump since people aren’t wading through long, repetitive emails.

There are thousands more tips like these and we bet you have some of your own. Please add your tips in the discussion thread below!

Alan Taylor is this week’s guest blogger. He runs his own consulting business, Alpine Technical Group, which focuses on web presence including website design, SEO/SEM, social and online marketing. 

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter. We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

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Business Writing Tip of the Week: How to Offend, Anger, or Frustrate Without Realizing It

Do you wake up on a workday morning and say to yourself, “I wonder how many of our customers/clients/contacts I can offend/anger/frustrate today?”

Of course not! And yet, it’s so easy to do just that, and never even realize it – perhaps until it’s too late.

Here’s one: How many times, with the best of intentions, have you ended a letter with, “Please feel free to call on us if we can be of further assistance”? If you’re like most of us, you’ve used that phrase as a “curtain line” hundreds of times. We’ve all done it. Somewhere in the distant past, we may even have been taught that this is a standard business phrase to be used at the end of most correspondence.

Let’s talk about this.

To begin with, you never need a “curtain line” to end your correspondence. There are actually four customary ways to finish writing: a summary, a conclusion, a “nicety” (a word I made up to describe this type of an ending), or – and this one is too often overlooked – just plain quit when you have said what you have to say.

 Well, if it’s acceptable to “just plain quit” when you’ve said what you have to say, why do you need a “nicety” at all? And if you do, when should you use it?

A “nicety” is a tool of tone. Remember that tone is the relationship the writer sets up, or reinforces with the reader. Think about what you want that relationship to be: Helpful? Knowledgeable? Respectful? Friendly? Cooperative?

So the only time you will use, and the only purpose of a “nicety,” is to build or reinforce that relationship. And if you are not looking to do that, “just plain quit” can be a great option.

Now let’s look at the wording of that “nicety,” beginning with the phrase, “Please feel free.” You do not have to give your client, customer, or contact permission to call on you! Of course he or she should “feel free” and your telling that reader so may well sound a bit patronizing. Or at least it could, if your reader paid any attention to your “nicety.”

So here’s the good news: That phrase is so trite your reader is more likely not to read or even notice it at all. So why bother?

And then there’s that phrase, “further assistance.” We may have just informed the reader that he or she did not get the job, does not get the extension, or will not get the expected refund. Now we are essentially telling that reader, “If there’s anything else we can do for you….”

It’s wise to be sure you have done something of assistance before claiming you have. Better yet, avoid that concept altogether. Let your reader tell you if you have been helpful!

Let’s clarify a point here: The idea of offering help is a good one. Just be careful how you word it, and personalize your “nicety” to your specific reader, and the specific situation.

The same thing goes for the words and phrases we use. Most of them, as well, are carry-overs from what we learned in school. (Bless our English teachers – where would we be without them?) Just remember that formal, or academic writing, can be very different from practical business writing, and generally is.

For example, can you think of three ways to say  “about”? Well, to start with we could say  “about,” or “regarding,” or “with regard to.” Now, which one is the most formal?  Which is the least formal? Which one is down the middle?

It’s helpful to decide how formal, or how informal you want your writing to be before you begin to write. Consider the level of formality that will best support the tone, or relationship you will be establishing or reinforcing with your reader. Oh, and by the way, “about” is the least formal, while “with regard to” is the most formal. “Regarding” is somewhere down the middle, perhaps leaning a bit toward the formal side.

This week, please give particular thought to the words, phrases, and even paragraphs you use habitually. The throwaway ones. The ones we never think about, but just use without much thought.

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We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

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Business Writing Tip of the Week: How to Write a Business Thank You Note

I could tell it was something pretty special the moment I removed the envelope from the post office box. Something important. Something that mattered. The envelope was notecard size, the address was handwritten. And it had a stamp on it!Thank You Card

Very special indeed. It was a handwritten thank you note. How long has it been since you’ve seen one of those in the business situation? Right. And that is precisely why it’s such a good idea. Because no one does it any more, any handwritten note, and particularly a handwritten thank you note, will make you stand out against your competition for, say, a job. A contract. An advocate.

Now in the business situation, there are layers – bottom layer is ignoring the thank you altogether. Not a good plan.

Next up – a spoken thank you. Depending on what the thanker is thanking the thankee for, this level of informality may be appropriate. In any case, it would certainly be preferable to saying nothing!

And then, how about a text? Or an email that could even be a bit longer. Well, still better than nothing, and it may be an appropriate tone and level of informality.

But how about that handwritten paper thank you note. Now that’s special. There is just something about holding that paper in your hand…

When to write a thank you note?

“Thank,” according to my Webster’s, means to show appreciation. You already do this, in a variety of ways, several times every day for kindnesses shown you by others.  But when do you write your thanks in the business situation? For those special kindnesses, as you would define special – the introduction; the special tip or suggestion that worked so well; the referral.

Timing is important. Write that note right away, and get it in the mail.

How do you make it easier to get started?

We could make this really hard. We could suggest visiting your stationer to select the appropriate notepaper and fountain pen. If you have the time, that is a good idea. But formal, dedicated stationers are harder and harder to find these days. The point really is that many stores carry good quality notepaper, and any pen that does not leave blotches or write only when it feels like it, will work just fine. Let’s not get bogged down with the details.

In the business situation, you will probably choose a neutral color, good quality stock with very understated, or no design. Some organizations have their own notepaper, and may use their own colors or design to echo or reinforce their brand.

When we were talking about thank you notes the other day, a friend shared a great tip from a friend of hers: Pre-stamp, and pre-return address several envelopes, and slip the blank notepaper inside each. When the occasion arises, all you have left to do is to use the same pen to write the note and address the envelope.

What goes into a handwritten thank you note?

1. Sincerity.

Sincerity, a sincere appreciation for a kindness done you by another is also number two and number three on this list. Your reader has a built-in radar that can detect one of those I-don’t-really-mean-it-but-have-to-write-it messages from 10,000 feet! This is the same radar that can detect the difference between a sales message disguised as a thank you, and the real thing. If you don’t mean it, you have no reason to write it.

4. The type of message that calls for a handwritten thank you note may very well be short, but should never be rushed. Take a few minutes to think about that kindness, and about the person you are thanking (you can do this while pouring your coffee, or brushing your teeth) before you write it.

A sincere thank you is always appropriate. A sincere written thank you is a very special thing.

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We appreciate your referrals of a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or for a shorter presentation at an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

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Thank Your Favorite English Teacher!

I hope everyone reading today’s entry will take a moment to drop a note or call to thank your favorite English teacher. Without him or her none of us would be where we are today. So bless that English teacher for giving us the sound, solid basic writing skills that have helped us so very much so far. The skills that allow us to build from them to move forward and take the next step. The skills that allow us to prove our professionalism and demonstrate our credibility.

In my business writing workshops, I often hear stories about a participant’s favorite English teacher. For example:

We were discussing prepositions one day, and how the last word of a prepositional phrase may cause confusion, resulting in a plural verb with a singular subject. This can happen because the last word of the prepositional phrase, often located next to the subject it describes, was plural, while the subject of the sentence was actually singular. One of the class members said, “My English teacher told us that ‘a preposition is a word that describes any way a bird can fly.’”

While this is not strictly true, it is fairly accurate, and is somewhat easier than memorizing the entire list of prepositions in the English language, which is not a bad idea either. (If you would like to take a look at the list of prepositions, visit my BusinessWritingZone.com website.)

It’s amazing how much can be learned from class members! I hope you will share your favorite teacher story, too. Just comment, or e-mail me. Thanks, I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com

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Advice for Bloggers – Rule #3: Be Original

This week, we’re welcoming back blogger Marilyn Tycer. Marilyn is a graphic designer and blogger, and we’ve asked her to share some of her tips for bloggers. (Click for Rule #1 and Rule #2).

Advice for Bloggers: Rule #3

Be original.

[Image source]

While we live in an era where everything seems to be up for grabs on the internet, take care to protect your reputation by using your own original material, or by attributing when appropriate. No, blog posts aren’t like formal papers that you turned in to a professor, but your name is listed as the author of your posts. Be honest as to where you got your ideas. Continue reading

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