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Sending Emails the Workplace Way: Do's and Don'ts for Communication

— DO remember that there are just some things that never belong in an email. Salary-related issues should always be discussed, and only with your manager or HR department and keep other sensitive issues out. As one advertising employee put it: ''Write every email as if it was splashed across the front page of The New York Times.'' Things get forwarded around, emails that you thought were confidential become fodder for public discussion, so when it doubt, leave it out.

— DO be conscious of the tone your emails convey. ''Many younger employees around the office send emails with no ‘Dear So-and-So,' or even ‘Hello.' Even if they don't intend it, it comes across as short and impolite at times,'' says Dale Kalman, Vice President of Stock Plan Services at Charles Schwab. ''I also had a situation where a newer employee sent a client an email that came across as arrogant. The client forwarded the email to me, commenting that he was surprised that a service-oriented company like ours could have send an email like this. Needless to say, that email hurt our relationship with that client and cost us money.''

— DO make life easy for your email readers. Use numbers, lists, bullet points – they help break up the content and ensure that your ideas don't get buried in long paragraphs, which we tend to skim over and absorb minimally.

—DO ask your manager or a trusted coworker about who else should be receiving your emails if you're unsure. No, it isn't a crime to send your email to one or two people that may not necessarily need to read it – unless your email contains confidential or other proprietary information that isn't for everyone's eyes. However, people tend to get a bit cranky and ticked off when they continue to receive emails from people they don't know, or about stuff they don't have any involvement with.

— DO proofread your emails first. We all know we're supposed to do this one, but how many emails do you receive in a day with typos, misspellings, funky punctuation, all lowercase letters, poor grammar, or other gaffes? Not only do mistakes make emails tougher to read and harder to follow (because we're secretly wondering why you don't know the difference between ''you're'' and ''your'' instead of reading your message) but they make you look bad, too. It only takes a minute to use spell check and look your messages over before sending out, and it can make a world of difference for you and your readers.

— DO wait until the last minute to put your recipients in the ''To'' line in your emails. Technology is tricky, and it's easy for anyone to accidentally hit the ''send'' button before your email is really fit for human consumption and in any kind of condition to be read by others, let alone your boss. Give yourself some built-in protection by writing the email first and addressing it last so that you don't send your message before it's really ready.

— DO think twice before sending attachments. Unless you've told your email recipients in advance (particularly those to whom your email is being sent externally), many people opt not to open anything unfamiliar, rather than risk a virus or other bug onto their computer. Plus, we're overloaded with information, and clicking on attachment is just one more thing we have to do. Post your attachment on your company's intranet instead, for instance, and send a hyperlink to the document in the body of the email, and chances are far more likely you'll have people reading what you intended.

— DO know the rules of your workplace when it comes to email. Many offices have strict policies about sending personal (non work-related email) from work, and also have guidelines about email content itself. Remember, it's perfectly legal for your company to monitor (e.g., read) your work email and IM content and tell you exactly how and how not to use your computer, so make sure you're on the right side of the law when it comes to what you communicate.

— DON'T make an email longer than it has to be. Remember, nothing makes your coworkers reach for the delete button faster than a long, drawn out email. The shorter the better. If you must send out a bunch of information, divide it into separate emails, so that you don't overwhelm everyone at once.

— DON'T use weird fonts, elaborate graphics, inspirational quotes, funky colors, or anything else that makes your communication tough to read, hard to open, or just plain annoying. While you're at it, skip the ALL CAPS (makes people feel like you're shouting at them), or all lowercase (gives us the sense that you are mumbling) and use bold and underline functions with discretion – too much is overkill, and makes readers feel like you're talking at them, not with them.

— DON'T email when you're feeling anything less than an eight on a sanity scale of 1-10 at work. If you're angry, frustrated, short-changed, underappreciated, devalued, or just want to have a meltdown and scream, stop. Walk away from the computer, take a deep breath, and count to 10 (or, better yet, 10,000) before you even think of emailing anything to anyone. An email written in an emotional moment can cause plenty of heartache for you later on – it's just not worth it.

— DON'T send your email to everyone with a heartbeat, and use the ‘Reply All' button with care. For political reasons, or simply to cover our own behinds, we tend to send out our emails to far more people than really necessary. Add up the recipients, carbon copies, and blind carbon copies, and you've sent that email to half the state of Utah. Our philosophy? Less is more, at least when it comes to your email list. If you panic at the thought of leaving somebody off an email, include the following at the bottom of your message: ''Please forward this email to anyone that I've missed. Thanks.''

— DON'T hesitate to bring other people into your proofreading party, either, when it comes to important emails. Before you hit the send button, ask your manager, when appropriate, or a trusted colleague to take a look at your brilliant email before everyone else gets to see it. Not only will they catch mistakes that you may have missed, but they'll also be able to judge the message for content, ideas, and give it a general thumbs up – or not.

— DON'T forward the harmless jokes, the political cartoons, or anything else that isn't work-related. Delete this stuff that gets emailed to you, even if it seems perfectly OK. Many an employee has been undone by forwarding the innocent story or joke, only to be told by HR that their email constitutes sexual harassment or is contributing to a hostile work environment. What seems funny to you and everyone else may not to someone you work with – and it's not worth the time, effort, or risk to your career to deal with that headache.

And last, but not least…

— DON'T forget that your emails aren't going anywhere. Maybe we've all seen one too many episodes of ''CSI,'' but you and I know that you can delete all you want and there will still be a copy of your email saved somewhere in the depths of your computer ‘till kingdom come. Before you hit the send button, do you really want a permanent record of whatever it is you're about to communicate? If so, hit send. But if the feeling in your gut tells you otherwise, best get the delete button ready and forget the email before it ever sees the light of day. As Kevin Grantedlinto, Vice President of Sales and Marketing of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra adds, ''Never send emails on the company server unless they are constructive or professional. I've seen other people get fired for the mistaken circulation of emails or from other people forwarding something they didn't realize was private. It's isn't worth risking your career, and the wrong kind of email can do just that.''

About the Author

Elizabeth Freedman, MBA, is an award-winning speaker and business columnist and is the author of Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself and The MBA Student's Job-Seeking Bible. She was a 2005 finalist for College Speaker of the Year, an honor awarded by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities, and runs a Boston-based communications and career development firm that helps new professionals look sharp, sound smart, and succeed on the job. Clients include The Gillette Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and The Thomson Corporation. For more information about the author, please visit

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