A successful business communication is built on simplicity and directness. You can achieve this goal by incorporating these six tips as you write your message:
- Brevity is your goal. Keep your message short. When speaking, it is tempting to say something and then repeat yourself just to make sure you are understood. That same proclivity happens in writing as well. Edit for redundancy.
- Write in the first person. The only exception is if you are writing on behalf of a company, department or team. Otherwise stick with “I” and “me” rather than “we” and “us.”
- Reflect yourself. Your writing should sound like you. As you write, ask yourself how you would phrase what you want to write if, instead, you were talking to the person. Often, when I am stuck for figuring out how to say something, I role play as though I am actually talking to a person instead of writing. Then, I aim to write down what I said.
- Avoid emoticons, text speak, and all caps. If you find it necessary to place a happy face at the end of a sentence to indicate you are really joking, consider rewriting your sentence so its meaning is clear. Text speak—b4 or cul8r or lol—may work in personal instant messages and texts, but they don’t belong in business emails and letters. Writing in all caps is considered shouting. Also, readability studies show that all caps are more difficult to read. It makes no sense to send a message that you make more difficult to read.
- Proofread. Certainly, it is important to check all your messages for spelling errors. But it is also important to check for grammar mistakes as well. In addition, word choice can cause difficulties, especially if you use a word that may be reasonable to you but ends up being unpleasant to the person to whom you are writing. (The word “sucks” is a classic example of a word that is in ordinary usage among younger generations but offensive to older ones.)
- Let it simmer. It is so easy to hit that send button just as you finish tapping the last key in your message. However, hesitate for a moment. Review your message for mistakes. This applies to text messages as well as to emails. Mistakes in something as basic as an email or text can leave the impression that you are less than careful in the work you do, and that’s not a good impression to make on the person to whom you are writing.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.