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Career Corner
Tips for Smart E-mail Communication at Work

Alexandra Levit -- Stop. Look. Think, before you Send.

-- Realize that e-mail is not private. Not only can your company's IT department access it, but you never know who your messages might be forwarded to -- accidentally or intentionally. Avoid discussing sensitive information and writing anything negative unless it's specifically requested by your boss and/or supported by fact.

-- Maintain a consistent corporate persona by crafting friendly, polite, and grammatically correct messages. Since you can1t rely on voice or nonverbal cues, always re-read your e-mails to make sure the message you are sending is idiot proof.

-- E-mails should be kept short and to the point. Make sure to include an informative and specific subject line (i.e., don't just call the message "Update"). Begin with a call to action that encourages the person to read the message

-­ starting with the word "you" usually does the trick. Put your key message up front, and if the information you must communicate is longer than 2-3 paragraphs, attach a word document with the relevant details.

-- Use e-mail to reinforce in-person conversations, either by imparting helpful information (i.e., FYI or "for your information" messages) or responding appropriately to an important issue (e.g. CYA or "cover your ass" messages).

-- Don't use e-mail as a forum to express displeasure or criticize. Do these things in-person rather than taking the easy way out. If you must highlight a problem in e-mail, be positive and solution-oriented.

-- Carbon copy (cc) your boss only on messages that clearly demonstrate that you are doing your job. Avoid sending him thousands of e-mails unless you want him to stop reading them.

-- When sending an important message to someone you know is unreliable, increase your chances of a response by including a follow-up flag or attaching a read receipt.

-- As a general rule, e-mailing a question to anyone sitting within ten feet of you is considered rude. Speak to these people face to face.

-- Before hitting reply, carefully read an e-mail in its entirety, and if it's preceded by a series of messages, read and understand the whole string first.

-- If you want to send personal e-mails at work, set up a separate account. Don't send those annoying forwards to your colleagues.

Alexandra Levit worked for a Fortune 500 software company and an international public relations firm before starting Inspiration @Work, an independent marketing communications business. She's the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World (Career Press 2004), This excerpt was reprinted, with permission of the publisher, Career Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ. All rights reserved.

© 2004 Alexandra Levit

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