Business Email Etiquette

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According to a recent report by a market research firm, email remains the go-to form of communication in the business world. In 2013, business email accounts totaled 929 million mailboxes. This figure is expected to grow at an average annual growth rate of about 5% over the next four years, and reach over 1.1 billion by the end of 2017.  The report further states that the total number of worldwide email accounts is expected to increase from nearly 3.9 billion accounts in 2013 to over 4.9 billion accounts by the end of 2017.

This represents an average annual growth rate of about 6% over the next four years.

The bottom line is that email has become the preferred option for all business communications and this trend continues to grow.  New technology such as cloud-based business email services, particularly Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, are expected to rapidly increase over the next four years.

Emails can be sent from Smartphones, Tablets, and other mobile devices.  While this is a great convenience, it comes with a tendency to become lax with the formality of the content of the communication. Mobile devices have transformed the way that we communicate in business because they allow us to communicate instantaneously with our customers, partners and employees. However, because the content of the business email has no inflections, it is easy for the receiver of the email to misinterpret the intent of the words.To avoid this unfortunate outcome, business emails need to be as formal and to the point as business letters are.

Recall that several decades ago, the only way to communicate in writing with a customer; vendor or employee was by using a formal letter.  The crafted letter required following all of the decorum and propriety of a written communication.  If not mailed in an envelope with paid postage, it was perhaps sent via fax.

Whether the letter was mailed or sent by fax, it represented a legally binding communication that was “put in writing”.

This is also the case with every email sent: it is a legally binding communication because it is in writing.  There can be no hearsay when a business communicates in writing. To that end, email communication should always adhere to the same guidelines and principles of writing a professional letter. Period.

Writing a business email is vastly different than writing a text or an Instant Message (IM). These forms of communication are designed for quick and informal banter among friends. Therefore, the language of texts and IMs which includes its own phrases such as LOL, ROFL, and many others are acceptable for a chat with a friend but have no place in a professional business email. 

Likewise for emojis. Emojis are also a new language that has developed and evolved with the proliferation of mobile device communications.  The same rule about refraining from the use of text language and abbreviations need to apply to the use of emojis -- this new language has no place in a business email. While it may be tempting to sprinkle in some smiley faces to accentuate the point in a business email, once again, because emails are subject to the interpretation by the receiver, resist the temptation to dress up the email with of this informal jargon.

Whenever you send a business email from this point forward, imagine that you are seated in front of a typewriter, with a thick stock letter or legal sized sheet of paper and you are about to write a formal letter that will be signed by you at the bottom of the last page and mailed or sent by fax.