It is a well-known and accepted fact that email is now the predominant form of communication in the business world.
This mode of communication has seen phenomenal growth over the past 15 years and the trend is set to continue: it is expected that by 2017 over 132 billion business emails will be sent and received every day.
Clearly email is a great business tool as it is cheap, fast and easy to mobilise.
However, extensive use of email for communication with customers and other external parties does involve significant risk for an organisation.
Over recent years there has been startling press coverage about cases of legal liability brought against companies due to inappropriate material being transmitted using company email networks. In certain industries, there are now regulations which require organisations to record all email communication and to maintain strict adherence to securing confidentiality of information.
A more pervasive and yet greatly underestimated risk of the increasing volume of emails in the business world is a lack of focus on quality, resulting in damage to company image, reputation and brand credibility.
Organisations across the world spend billions of dollars on brand design and maintenance, advertising and many other types of expensive marketing communications activity. Great care and attention is spent on ensuring the correct style, tone and accuracy of such communication pieces to ensure appropriate company image and reflection of brand values. However, the majority fail to recognise that every single email sent out by their employees, carrying their logo and identity also acts as a corporate representative and should be subject to the same level of scrutiny and stringent communication guidelines.
A Harvard Business Review stated “ A Company is only as good as its writing”, recognising the extreme importance of business writing to the reputation of an enterprise.
Given that emails are now the go-to form of communication for business, it is crucial that standards for this are set, monitored and maintained. A clear distinction has to be made between that style of writing used in personal communication, particularly the omnipresent social media channels and that use in a professional communication piece.
As a starting point, we suggest the top 5 tips for professional email composition:
- First impressions last. The modern standard for email layout is “blocked layout” which means left alignment of text. Unlike What’s app messages, Facebook posts and Twitter messages, business emails must be set out into clear paragraphs which indicates planning, organisation and allows the reader to navigate easily through the topics
- Use of Plain English – This is the accepted standard for business emails and is the language would be used in a general business context – in business meetings and conversations. There can be a tendency in business writing to use language that is out-dated and would never be used in any other context. Typical examples are “Enclosed herewith please find ” “Please revert to us soonest” – expressions which would never be used in natural business dialogue.
- Accuracy of grammar and punctuation. It is essential that care is taken to check the grammar and punctuation to ensure accuracy. Mistakes in this area suggest to the reader that little attention has been given to the email composition
- Consistency in emails is very important; this applies equally the size, colour and type of font used, spelling (US/UK English), use of lists and bullet points. Mixing these elements not only confuses the reader, but again can create the impression that little time and care has been given to the writing
- Subject Lines to create impact – As mailboxes become more cluttered with the increasing email volumes, it is important for writers to use appropriate language in the subject line to ensure that emails are not overlooked or deleted without attention. Subject lines should give the reader a strong indication about the topic of the email and use language which is positive and stimulating to entice the reader to open and pay attention to the content.
“What is written without effort is, in general, read without pleasure”
The Author : Catherine Bentley is Director Marketing and Business Communication at PowerBase. She specialises in working with individuals and teams to enhance their business communication skills