It’s hard to believe, but smartphones didn’t become mainstream until Apple released the iPhone in 2007. Just 12 years later, everybody seems to have one, and they have dramatically changed how people communicate. Texts, emails, and instant messages are all about immediacy, so they are riddled with acronyms, typos, and emojis. That is perfectly acceptable between friends and family, but many people carry these habits into the workplace.
While the technology behind work communication has evolved to include emails, texts, and instant messaging, business writing is radically different from casual cellphone interactions. A business email that does not conform to corporate standards is not likely to be taken seriously, no matter how good your ideas are.
Business writing is about transferring information professionally, clearly, and effectively.
The first, easy steps in creating professional communications are:
- Omit acronyms like LOL (laugh out loud), TTYL (talk to you later), and LMK (let me know). Spelling out words may seem like a waste of time, but it can save time and avoid confusion, since your reader(s) may not be familiar with text shorthand.
- Turn on spellcheck. Spellcheck will catch embarrassing spelling errors. It will also highlight typing errors, such as reversing letters.Please note: You still need to proofread your communications, because spellcheck does not know which word you intended to use. For example: If you type “your,” but meant to say “you’re,” spellcheck will not flag the word as an error, because “your” is spelled correctly.
- Don’t use emojis. People commonly use emojis in casual communications as a form of shorthand. A smiley face can mean, “I’m only joking.”As you can see, in addition to making your communication look glaringly unprofessional, they can easily be misinterpreted. Instead of leaving the fate of your project or possibly your career in the virtual hands of an emoji, clearly state what you want to convey in words.The best practices below are geared towards emails, but many can be applied to any kind of business communication.
- Think carefully about the possible repercussions of adding someone to the CC or BCC address line. Ask yourself whether the information is privileged or confidential and select your distribution list accordingly. Example: Including a distribution list of all coworkers on a confidential email about impending layoffs could cause unnecessary panic and could even cost you your job.Another consideration is whether recipients are internal to the company or external, like vendors. External recipients should not be privy to certain information.
- Your subject line should provide a summary of the email’s contents. This will help the reader determine whether they need to open it now or later. Example: “Red Apple Project ― Manufacturing Delays Impact Product Launch.”
- Email body – Remember that, due to time constraints and human nature, people generally do not read long paragraphs, so limit paragraphs to an average of three or four lines.Whenever possible, use bullet points to convey key information briefly.
- Always include a call to action at the end of your email. Depending on the nature of the information, this may be a sentence or a paragraph.A call to action is a request for the reader to do something to help you solve a problem or achieve a goal. Examples: “Bob, please call me this afternoon so we can discuss finding a new manufacturer,” and “Cindy, please send me resumes for the top five supervisor candidates by 10:00 tomorrow morning so I can fill this position.”Your call for action should always include what you need and when you need to receive it. It may also include the consequences of not receiving what you ask for on time. Example: “Jean, if you don’t find a vendor to replace Acme Widgets by 5:00 tomorrow, we will not be able to launch the product on June 30.”
- Create a signature in your email application that will automatically appear two lines below your call to action.Your signature should include a professional “sign off” such as “Best regards,” or “Yours truly,” your full name, title, company name, and office phone number.
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- Finally, do not underestimate the importance of being polite. Whether you are writing to the CEO, your coworkers, or your suppliers, good manners always make a great impression. Plus, “please” is more likely than demands to get you the results you want.
At first, spelling out common acronyms, not using emojis, and applying the best practices suggested above in your business communications may feel awkward and unnecessary. In time, they will become second nature, and your communications will be more effective. Additionally, I believe writing is a key indicator of professionalism and attention to detail and will is essential in every field.
Before helming Perpetual Talent Solutions as President, Jim Hickey held several senior leadership roles in both sales and operations for two of the world’s largest Commercial Staffing organizations. Jim is a dedicated professional who has been formally recognized as a Staffing Industry Subject Matter Expert.