Email etiquette: how to communicate clearly every time

Email etiquette: how to communicate clearly every time

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Originally Posted On: Email etiquette: how to communicate clearly every time | QuickBooks (


In industries where every second counts, every minute your work is stalled siphons off money from a project. Whatever the reason, there’s a good chance the root cause is poor communication—whether you’re emailing, texting, or even speaking face-to-face. For most of us, email communication is still our preferred method of business correspondence. But that doesn’t mean we’re all experts in professional email etiquette.

But rest assured, your company’s success depends, in part, on your ability to write clear and concise business emails. From the salutation to the last exclamation point, if a message is coming from your professional email address, it has to be right.

Consider the possible consequences of a poorly written email: The nuances of using a word like “could” (instead of “must”) might lead an employee to misunderstand the project’s timeframe. This misunderstanding could lead to a half-day or full day of lost time, which could make you look unprofessional in front of your client.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally misinterpreting an email. It’s human nature. But when it happens all the time, people get frustrated, which leads to diminished morale, confidence, and productivity. A few instances of miscommunication can quickly eat into your profit margin. It can also slowly chip away at your reputation for getting work done on time.

Meanwhile, we use email to provide “constructive feedback” or troubleshoot what went wrong, which often leads to finger pointing and resentment, despite the best of intentions. The only way to effectively share feedback and troubleshoot a situation is with a phone call or face-to-face. Then everyone involved can share their thoughts through words, facial expressions, and body language.

Three questions to ask when writing a business email

You don’t have to settle for the pitfalls of miscommunication. By taking a few extra minutes to write a clear, well-structured email, you can avoid missed deadlines and keep your projects on schedule.

Here are three questions to consider as you write.

1. Is email the most efficient way to communicate my message?

When we’re out of the office, most of us use our smartphones to read email. But at a job site or when driving between projects, the last thing you want to do is search through email for a critical piece of information. So, before you write an email, consider if there’s a better way to communicate, whether via phone, text, video chat, or face-to-face.

2. Does this email clearly say what needs to be communicated?

It’s been said that writing is thinking on paper. Put yourself in the shoes of the other stakeholders and understand what needs to be said. Then write an email that has clear messaging from the first word, and make sure to follow-up to ensure the message was received.

3. Do I come across as professional?

Too often people are overly casual in work email. That’s fine with colleagues on a close-knit team, but not when you’re communicating with other stakeholders. Emojis, emoticons, and smiley faces might look cute, but they can muddle the meaning of your message.

Additionally, choose wisely if you want to use humor. There’s a reason why good comedians earn a decent living: Telling a joke and being funny are both deceptively difficult. So, if you have a joke or a clever saying that you want to include, consider how humor often falls short of its mark and could lead to an awkward exchange.

Nine tips for proofreading your email

Although there are no hard and fast email etiquette rules, here’s nine things you should check before hitting send.

1. Pick a short, attention-getting subject line

Grab people’s attention with words like “new”, “update” or “urgent”. And make sure to keep it short, since short subject lines can be displayed more fully on mobile. And, on that note…

2. Make sure your email is mobile friendly

Because of the prevalence of smartphones, it’s critical that you make email as mobile friendly as possible. Keep paragraphs and sentences short so they can be easily viewed on a phone.

3. Read your email out loud to ensure readability

You might feel a bit silly reading your message out loud – but trust us, it’s worth it! Reading back what you’ve written can help identify clunky words or unclear instructions. Tools like Grammarly can also help give you extra insight into readability.

4. Edit email for length and proofread for grammar, spelling, and tone

Sure, you’ve used spellcheck – but spellcheck doesn’t catch every typo, every time. While nobody expects perfect grammar, it’s good to quickly double-check that you aren’t making a serious grammatical error.

5. Label sections to keep readers engaged

Got a lot to say? Add bold or large font size headers to different sections, or incorporate bullet points, so folks can easily skim to find the information they need.

6. Make action items clear and call attention to relevant deadlines

Bolding or underlining any important deadlines or call outs is key. As long as you don’t overdo it, a little bit of formatting can go a long way.

7. Double-check that referenced items are attached

If you say “see attached” or reference a document, it never hurts to double check that the correct documents are attached. While you’re checking, it’s also a good idea to make sure documents have a file name that corresponds to the content inside.

8. Spell out abbreviations

Make sure your meaning is clear by spelling out all unfamiliar abbreviations. Never assume someone knows a word when the meaning might escape them.

9. Make sure your contact information is in your email signature

People have become comfortable providing feedback over email, but it’s rife with opportunities for miscommunication. Instead, offer your phone number and talk it out. And if someone has an urgent question, following up with a phone call might be the best way to get a quick answer.

Writing a great email is more than a best communication practice. While writing, you have an opportunity to organize your thoughts in writing, plan projects, and discover new approaches. You’ll also discover all the benefits of clear communication, including the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’ve said what needed to be said.

A solid financial foundation is also key for business growth. Learn how QuickBooks Online Advanced or QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise can contribute to your small business’s success.

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