Sunday, April 1, 2001

What you didn’t know about writing business email


By Steve Niles

The use of email has exploded in the past decade. Email has become such an essential part of doing business, it's difficult to imagine how we got along without it. However, as useful as email is, it also brings with it new problems that you need to be aware of to ensure you don't harm yourself or your company.

You can learn more about the potential problems associated with email, along with their solutions, in an incredibly useful ebook by Jonathan Whelan called, "The Things That Really Matter About Writing Business Emails." It's one in a series on business "Essentials" designed to teach specific skills to busy people. It's available from at

"By using the Internet to communicate externally with customers, field staff, suppliers, and others, businesses can now communicate globally, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," Whelan writes in the preface to his ebook. As great an advantage as this may be, however, there are numerous potential pitfalls. Unlike classic business letters--written on company stationary, folded and placed in an envelope, and given the required government postage--emails can be sent instantly and relatively freely right from the writer's computer or wireless Palm handheld.

As such, emails are perceived as being informal, and employees may tend to put things in an email they would think twice about putting into a business letter. The result for companies, writes Whelan, is "their email systems have been flooded with excessive and unnecessary information, confidential information has been exposed and, in extreme cases, the contents of employees' messages have resulted in legal action against their employers."

This is precisely why Whelan's ebook is so important. If you regularly correspond via email, whether it's internal, external, or personal, or if you're an email administrator for a large corporation, you can't afford not to have this ebook at your fingertips, conveniently stored on your Palm device.

Adapting your business for email

Chapter one of the ebook covers adapting your business for email. Here Whelan discusses how your company can exploit the value of email. We all know the advantages of email of course, but as Whelan points out, "Because email is easy to use, it is also easy to send messages that are unnecessary, or messages which contain libelous, sexist, racist, or other inappropriate material." Sending a lot of personal email can also be problematic, as it competes for attention with more important business correspondence.