A lot of people say that since email is a relatively new technology, the old rules of business writing don’t apply. The fact is that a lot of people are dead wrong. Sure, you can ignore the rules if you choose–but be aware you do so at your peril. Unless your readers are still passing notes in study hall, they are not likely to be amused with short-cuts, cryptic acronyms, or downright laziness.
Everything you have learned about letters applies to e-mail. The big difference is that a reader averages only 11 seconds before deleting. Obviously, grabbing immediate interest is essential. Be nice. Be thoughtful. Be safe. And remember that your SUBJECT line is the most important line of all. That’s where your reader decides to open your note–or delete.
Here are 15 quick rules for writing e-mail right.
1. Create instant interest in your subject line.
2. Be brief. Aim for a single screen; avoid scrolling.
3. When forwarding e-mail, delete everything but what is necessary for context–put the reader in the picture.
4. Do not e-mail anything you would not want to see published in your local newspaper.
5. Return e-mail as promptly as a phone call.
6. Don’t be lazy. Correct spelling. Proper sentences. Punctuation.
7. Since all caps are a nightmare to read, use caps and punctuation as you would in any other document.
8. Always respond to e-mail addressed TO: you. A one-word reply will do.
9. Expect a reply only from people on the TO: line; expect no reply from people on the CC: line.
10. Ask permission before forwarding.
11. NEVER send chain letters.
12. Keep confidential e-mail confidential.
13. At work, assume you are being watched and use email only for legitimate purposes.
14. Do not distribute to everyone simply because you can.
15. Do not tolerate racist, sexist or lewd comments on email.
E-mail is no longer a new technology and there is simply no excuse for getting it wrong. If you write to sell, or to support, or just to stay in touch, you’d better know the rules. Indeed, write right and reap the rewards. It’s not only a nice thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.