E-mail is a great communications tool - sometimes.

I love E-mail. It’s cheaper and faster than sending a letter, (perhaps) less intrusive than a phone call and less hassle than a fax. Plus, I can get my message to someone on the west coast at 9 a.m. ET—with documents attached. But as much as I love it, I also hate it.

Sadly, many do not understand how to adjust their communication styles to this new medium. And frankly, many E-mail messages are confusing—or annoying.

Since E-mail is more conversational than traditional paper-based media, it tends to be sloppier. I admit that I send E-mail in all lower case to friends and family on occasion. But, I do examine my business E-mails as best I can to ensure that my point is made—and made professionally. Nobody likes his (or her) time wasted, or to be annoyed or confused. Heed these E-mail guidelines.


With E-mail, you can’t see or hear the message sender. The recipient may have difficulty telling if you are serious or kidding, happy or sad. Sarcasm is particularly dangerous in E-mail. So, don’t type exactly what you would say out loud. Without the tone of voice to signal an emotion, it is easy to misinterpret your intent. Text also lacks cues from body language.

Although you cannot make your voice higher or lower, louder or softer, there are games you can play with text to convey vocal inflection and emotion. You can use capital letters to emphasize a word or two, but don’t use all capital letters in an E-mail. Ever. There is no reason to yell at anyone.


Don’t confuse people with E-mail. A subject line that pertains clearly to the actual message will help people mentally shift to the proper context before they read your message. It should also be brief.

If something is important, reflect it in your text not the punctuation. Don’t send…a message, that like—has more marks than words, ya know?!?!?!

Abbreviation usage is overused with E-mail. In the quest to save keystrokes, users often trade clarity for confusion. Make it easy on people; only use the commonly known ones: FYI and BTW.

Clues To Use

In a perfect world (at least my perfect world) there would be faultless writing. However, we do not live in a perfect world. Good grammar is very hard for some people, just as crunching numbers and juggling are for me. But, use the grammar and spell checkers on your computer. If your message matters, you will. (But know that checkers don’t catch everything!)

Remember your purpose in sending an E-mail. What outcome do you want? If you are sending an E-mail to your boss, be careful about your grammar and tone. If you are corresponding with clients, well, scrutinize your message. Take a step back and read it from the receiver’s point of view. Then press that Send button.

There are so many other aspects to creating an effective E-mail, but I don’t want to confuse or annoy you, so I’ll stop here.

To contact the editor, send an E-mail to brownl@bnp.com or mail to 755 W. Big Beaver Rd., Suite 1000, Troy, MI 48084