Etiquette at work

Careless errors are costly in business communication

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, then repeat it, just to make sure you are understood. That same proclivity happens in writing. 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. Ask yourself how you might phrase a thought if, instead, you were talking to the person. Often, when I am stuck, I role play as though I am talking instead of writing. Then, I aim to write down what I said.

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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 joking, consider rewriting your sentence so its meaning is clear. Text speak—b4, cul8r, or lol—may work in personal instant messages and texts, but they don’t belong in business e-mails and letters. Writing in all caps is considered shouting. Also, readability studies show that all caps are more difficult to read.

Proofread. Certainly, it is important to check all your messages for spelling errors, and check for grammar mistakes as well. In addition, word choice can cause difficulties, especially if you use a word that may seem reasonable to you, but ends up being unpleasant to the person to whom you are writing. (The word “sucks” is a classic example.)

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 e-mails. Mistakes can leave the impression that you are less than careful in the work you do, and that’s never a good impression to make.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to
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