Category Archives: Email

Be Careful What You Say in Emails

Be Careful What You Say in Emails

Email is permanent. Oh sure, it may not seem that way, because most of us delete unwanted emails every day. But what if you didn’t delete them? They would be around for as long as someone wanted to keep them—perhaps years into the future.

Why is this important? Because it stresses the importance of not writing emails that are stupid, irresponsible, mean, libelous, or anything else that you might really regret later on. It’s kind of like the old adage about taking a few hours, or maybe a day, to simmer down before sending off a letter you wrote in anger. In all likelihood, when we look at our writing after the emotions have calmed, we think, “Man, I’m glad I didn’t send that!”

The trouble is that with email we may not be quite so careful. Email is fast. And the email that takes 30 seconds to write and send may take years to undo.

Here are some definite don’ts:

  • Don’t write an email when you’re angry. Instead, you can write a Word document and save it for tomorrow, when hopefully you can look at it with a clear head.
  • Don’t gossip in emails (or anywhere else, just to be on the safe side). Just imagine if the person being gossiped about gets hold of your email.
  • Don’t write something stupid. Such as? Well, anything that, if you looked at it several months from now would really make you embarrassed.
  • Don’t send inappropriate material. Not only is it highly inconsiderate—it can also get you into big trouble if the wrong person sees it.

So, remember to be very careful when sending email. Frankly, most people, even business professionals, are not. Interestingly, many of these people would never be so careless with pen and ink, but for some reason, a computer makes it somehow seem different.

Protecting Privacy When Using Email

Protecting Privacy When Using Email

We’ve all gotten emails from people who put every recipient’s address in the “To:” field. Now, in a perfect world, that might not be such a big deal (although all those addresses can take up a lot of space at the top of the email). Unfortunately, it only takes one unthinking person to cause a lot of problems for everyone on that list.

What’s the danger? Well, some people (and you may even know some, yourself) think something along these lines:

You know, I really like getting jokes in my email every day—they’re so funny! I’ll bet all these other people would sure appreciate it if I forwarded these jokes to them each day.

The above scenario would be bad enough. Unfortunately, some people go beyond this:

Hmmm….Fred from this group reminds me a lot of Barney from this other group. I think I’ll go ahead and sign up Fred to all the email lists that I know Barney’s a part of. He’ll thank me for it! But since I’m such a humble guy, I won’t even tell him I did this for him—I’ll just rest content, knowing that I did a good deed.

Suddenly, Fred is getting hundreds of spam emails from heaven knows where. He wonders how this could have happened—he never signed up for any of this, and he email address is nothing that a spammer would just happen to guess.

As bad as this is, it could be worse:

Wow—look at those foxy ladies! I think the old fuddy duddies in the office could use a little livening up. I’m gonna sign them up for these sexy pics that I’m getting every day. Ooh, I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces at the office tomorrow!

Yikes. Now everyone in the office is suddenly getting some of the most vile, sordid emails—and they wonder how this could have happened.

There’s an easy solution, though. Create an email list. Put everyone’s email address on it. Use the list—not the individual addresses—in the “To:” field. Alternatively, you could paste everyone’s address in the “BCC:” field. The point, though, is that privacy is important; do your part to protect it.

Getting Your Point Across

Getting Your Point Across

Making your point can be relatively easy in spoken conversation. In writing, however, it can be more of a challenge. While we mean one thing when we write, what the reader interprets may be something totally different. Sometimes the consequences of this can be significant.

How not to do it:
One thing you don’t want to do is to shout at the reader. Yet, many professionals still use ALL CAPS whenever they compose an email. This may be thought to indicate a greater importance for their message, but to most readers, it comes across like shouting.

Let’s look at an example. An instructor in the math department of a community college needs to borrow a projector from the English department. The email that the math instructor sent looked something like this:


How to do it:
Believe me—emails and memos like this happen a lot. Aside from the obvious formatting changes (such as a subject line, salutation, closing, and a bit of punctuation), the words themselves need a little tweaking. Here’s a possible revised version:


This is Fred from the Math Dept. Could I please borrow your projector for tonight’s class?


Is there a lack of emphasis? No. Rather, there is clarity, concision, politeness, and readability—just what you want in most business messages.

What to remember:
Avoid using ALL CAPS. After all, who wants to be shouted at? Instead, try to imagine that you are the receiver of the message, and think how you would like to be addressed. And here’s a big tip: Read your message aloud and see how it sounds. Does it sound harsh? If so, then the reader will probably find it to be so, too.

In short, then, it is certainly possible to get your point across without the shouting of ALL CAPS or the harshness of not considering the recipient’s point of view.

Delivering Bad News through Email

Here is how not to convey an email message containing bad news to a coworker:


Hey, Fred—just found out you’re going to get the sack today. Tough luck. But hey, that means more time for those Red Sox games. Go Sox! Ha ha. Later, Bob

Unless you really don’t like Fred, you should take a different approach. And yes, emails like this do actually get sent by people who (presumably) don’t know any better.

Here’s another way not to convey bad news through email:



Hey, did you see the game last night? What a blowout! Was that disappointing, or what?

Well, I didn’t write just to talk about sports. The fact is, I want to talk about what a great job you do here. I know you’ve been with this company a long time. Over the years, I’ve watched your work and learned from you. The projects we’ve collaborated on have really helped me learn the ropes.

That’s why it bothered me so much when I heard you’re getting canned today. Man, that’s really a bummer.

Well, call me later and we’ll hang out after I get off work.


Here, the problem is that the message is entirely misleading—even the subject line doesn’t really say anything. Then, instead of being upfront about the bad news, the issue at hand is clouded by the writer. Finally, with no warning at all, the bad news hits the reader like a ton of bricks. (Do you think Fred will want to hang out with the genius writer of that last email?)

But just how should one handle composing a bad news email? How about something like this:

SUBJECT: Bad news


I’m afraid I have bad news. Due to budget cuts, you’re one of the 40 workers whose position has been phased out. I’m very sorry.

Management assures us it has nothing to do with the quality of anyone’s work. Some of the people they let go have been here for over 10 years.

Fred, I know that with your qualifications and experience you’ll have no trouble getting on somewhere else. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.


What makes the third email preferable? It shows concern for the person who is about to lose his job. It does so by using a truthful—but not thoughtless—subject line. Then, it gets right to the point. The middle paragraph offers a little comfort and a more complete perspective. Finally, the closing provides sincere encouragement.

So, when it comes to delivering bad news through email, remember:

  • Use an honest subject line
  • Get to the point right away
  • Offer some perspective
  • Provide encouragement
Getting Your Emails Noticed: Part 3

Getting Your Emails Noticed: Part 3

Now we’re ready to wrap up what it takes to get your emails noticed. (See Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already.)

  1. Have a clear call to action
    A lot of emails, even ones with good information, leave the reader saying, “Okay, so? What is it you want me to do?”
    Don’t let this happen to you. It’s not enough to just lay out a bunch of data. You’ve got to tell the person (or department) you’re writing exactly what you want done, with a brief account of the parameters involved. Something like this:

    Accounting Dept.:

    Got a favor to ask. We need some of the info from this month’s report. Specifically, here’s what we’re after:

    • Item 1
    • Item 2
    • Item 3
    Don’t worry about any of the other info in the report. Please send to us by 2 p.m. today or call us at 555-555-1050 if there are any problems.

    Marketing Dept.

  2. Be nice

    Why? What if I don’t? What are you gonna do about it? Huh? Huh?? Oh, for heaven’s sake—just be nice. Writing emails provides a great opportunity to exercise the Golden Rule. After all, would you want to read an email like this:

    Hey—we in HR need those files we asked for this morning. Send them NOW. What’s your problem? We know you don’t do anything down there anyway. Get on the stick!

    Oh, sure, HR—we’ll get right on that.

    Is it really so hard to put it this way:

    Records Dept.:

    Hi, it’s Peggy from HR. Could you please send us the new hire files we discussed this morning? Sorry for the rush, but we can’t process the new applicants without this information.


  3. Never send forwarded email without a valid business reason

    If you’re at work, do you really want to spend your time reading about the latest call to action for some activist organization? Or are you particularly interested in reading the latest jokes from some lame website?

    Stick to business. Keep it concise, intelligible, courteous, and let the email recipient know exactly what you want—with contact info for any necessary clarification. Your co-workers will appreciate it! And for a bit of extra help, contact

Getting Your Emails Noticed: Part 2

Getting Your Emails Noticed: Part 2

In Part 1, we covered three important points in getting your emails noticed:

  • Have a relevant, informative subject line
  • Use a proper salutation
  • Be CLEAR

Now, in Part 2, we’re going to look in more detail at the body of your message. And remember, can help you to have well-written emails every time.

  1. Be concise
    See how concise this point is? The statement “Be concise” is concise, but crystal clear. That’s how business emails should be, generally.
    It’s not necessary to show an example of what unnecessarily lengthy emails are like. Suffice it to say that gargantuan tomes are never going to be read in email format. If you can’t condense your point to one—or at the most, two—screens, you’re in big danger of losing your audience.
  2. Separate into logical paragraphs
    If you have a huge block of text, it’s hard to read. This is true whether you’re reading something on paper or on a computer screen. Strive to keep paragraphs short and divided at the right places. Notice how easy it is to read this page?
  3. Avoid slang
    Imagine a business email like this:

    Tim, what up dawg??? lol L8r i be afc so 4 2daze file s2r. thx, ted

    It just might be better to write it this way:


    Later I’m going to be away from my computer. Please send me today’s files so I can process them and get them back to you.


    Just a thought. And if you don’t have a clue what all the above gibberish (aka Internet slang) means, consider yourself lucky.
  4. Provide clear contact information
    If someone sends you an email and you can’t reach them to ask a question, it can be quite annoying. That’s why it’s a good idea to use an email signature with more than one means of contacting you. Something like this:

    Lois Thompson, Director of Marketing
    Phone: 555-555-1010
    Alt. Phone: 555-555-1011
    Marketing Dept.: 555-555-1030
    Fax: 555-555-1020

That’s all for Part 2. Ready for Part 3?

Ever have your emails ignored? If so, it’s probably not because you’re a particularly odious person. More likely, it’s because people are very busy. They read what they think is important and ignore what they think is not. If you want to have your writing noticed (for the right reasons), there are certain rules to abide by.

  1. Have a relevant, informative subject line
    • If you’re at work and a co-worker sends you an email with a subject line of “Re:” or “hey,” how likely are you to open it and read it? But what if you got an email with a subject line of “Manager requests feedback on today’s meeting”? Yeah, you’ll definitely open that one.
  2. Use a proper salutation
    • A proper business salutation is not “Hey, yo” or “WHASSSSSUPPPPP???” Rather, you should address someone by their name, followed by a comma or colon, as in the following examples:



      Mr. Smith,

      Finance Dept.:

      In business writing, “Dear” is not generally used if you’re writing to someone within your organization, but it is standard for correspondence with other companies. This is especially true if it’s the first time you’ve written them.
  3. Be CLEAR
    • Nothing is more frustrating than taking the time to read a business email, only to discover it would take an experienced Egyptologist to decipher the hidden meaning in the message:

      hi carol just need to check see if the jones file that sam sent us all is in par at jims specs or if it needs more info from u or me or that one other dept, if so call me thanks mike

      The correct response to such a mess is “Huh?” after which, the offending message will probably be deleted (or saved in a file titled “amusement”).
    • Consider this revision:


      Could you please check to see if the Jones file meets the specs that Jim outlined earlier? If not, let me know ASAP. We may need to provide him with more info.


This is just the beginning. Check out Part 2. And to make sure your emails are written correctly, contact an editing pro at