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Composing Risk-Free E-Mails

February 14, 2002
Related Topics: Internet, Technology and the Law, Policies and Procedures, Featured Article

One of the easiest and most effective ways for employers to reduce electronicrisk is simply to require that employees use appropriate, businesslike languagein all electronic communications, says Nancy Flynn, author of The ePolicyHandbook (AMACOM, 2001).

Here are some of the guidelines she recommends in composing a businesse-mail:

  • Use a conversational tone. Flynn says to imagine you are attending adinner party with colleagues, supervisors, and customers. Use the same languageand tone in an e-mail that you would use at that kind of event.

  • Don’t be overly rigid with grammar use. In business the rules havechanged. Feel free to use contractions, to end sentences with prepositions, andto use pronouns like I, we, and you. If grammar is too stiff, readers won’tknow what the message is about.

  • No sexist language. This isn’t just harassing or discriminatory jokesand comments, but also the overuse of masculine pronouns. Given the increasingnumber of women in the workforce, it’s important for electronic writers toavoid language that could rankle clients or colleagues.

  • Don’t incorporate jokes into electronic business writing. Becausee-mail is impersonal and lacks inflection or body language, your joke is likelyto fall flat or to be misconstrued.

  • Limit the use of abbreviations and use only legitimate and recognizableones, not your own personal shorthand. An excess of abbreviations can beannoying and confusing for the reader.

  • Don’t try to warm up business writing with "smileys" -- also knownas emoticons -- using keyboard characters to represent smiles and similar facialexpressions. Smileys are the equivalent of e-mail slang and have no place inbusiness communications.

  • If you have trouble getting employees to adhere to a business writingstandard, you can always apply a technological solution to the problem, Flynnsays, by installing software programmed to detect and report the use of "trigger"words in e-mails sent by employees. That software can usually be programmed totrack competitors’ names as well, alerting management tocommunication that is taking place between employees and the company’scompetition.

Workforce, February 2002, p. 40 -- Subscribe Now!

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