We rely heavily on email communication in our business lives.  This is especially true when a record is required of back and forth communication about business topics, agreements and understandings which have technical, contractual, and/or commercial impact.

The following best practices are offered as a reminder/guide when communicating by email.  These topics are not an all-encompassing panacea for poorly crafted emails nor are they a substitute for polite communication skills and common sense.

  • Audience – understand your audience, their understanding of the subject matter, their social traditions, their forms of address and their hot button topics to avoid. Craft your message considering these understandings.  This especially applies when your audience is multi-national.
  • Subject line – your subject line should clearly and consistently identify the topic of the email. Avoid use of subject lines with questions or topics not related to the message.  When replying to an email, use part of the original subject line but add descriptive text related to your
  • Email address – should be professional and contain your name and, if applicable, company name.
  • Recipients – should be minimum number required and strictly based on “need to know”. Avoid “Reply All” when responding, ask yourself if all in the reply really need to hear and/or respond to your message.  Typically, only “To” recipients are required to respond.  Use “CC and BCC” if FYI only is required.
  • Response timing – reply to email as soon as practical. Your response should cover and be in line to all questions/actions – topics left hanging waste time and money.  Try to reply to all emails when a response is requested.  Do not reply to emails when irritated or stressed with the topic or sender(s) – calm down or write your response, wait a day, then re-read and send it – only if it makes sense.  The author acknowledges hitting “send” on occasion and later wishing I could put the toothpaste back in the tube.
  • Writing style – use proper grammar and sentence structure, questions and action points are to be clearly delineated, avoid casual language, inference or slang. Verbosity is not your friend – size of message should be minimum size required to explain your point and/or requested actions/questions. If more points need to be conveyed or discussed in detail, suggest a separate documented meeting.  Sometimes, a phone call can clear up many questions before an email is sent.  Politics via email can solicit unexpected and often volcanic responses.
  • Colored fonts and shading – may be ok for casual personal communication but do not project a professional business email image. Avoid use of exclamation points and all cap text strings. Avoid microscopic fonts – sans serif style is easiest to read – 10 pt minimum.  All road signs use sans serif fonts – for reading clarity.
  • Attachments – send only if critical to email topic, questions or actions. Avoid source files as some recipients may not have the source file application software – pdf is a good neutral choice.  Be mindful of recipient’s email size limitations on inbound emails – use download links for large file(s).  Before hitting “send”, verify no confidential or proprietary info is being sent to recipients not authorized to receive it or if any non-publicity or IP covenants may apply.
  • Signature block – should contain your name, email, physical address and phone contact info and be on at least the original and your initial response to any email.
  • Proofreading – required before sending – reading aloud can help identify wording/grammar issues. Verify recipients, check grammar, and check spelling (spell checkers may miss some words or grammar).

Author’s Note“Why cover this topic, again?”, you say.  I know I have, and possibly you too, have not always crafted optimal emails.  Even sharp knives need an occasional touch up.  Please direct any questions regarding business communication to [email protected].