Oops, I Didn’t Mean to Say That



mean-to-sayYour emails carry more than just your message; your
reputation is at stake. Be careful what you say and
how you say it.

The advent of email some 30 years ago was a technical
revolution that has allowed a means of communicating
with one person or thousands simultaneously. Unfortunately,
the ability to communicate has not necessarily
created better communication.

Traditional letter writing evolved protocols for
writing all kinds of letters, including business letters.
The immediacy and constancy of email contact today,
however, allows, even encourages, a much less formal
writing style. Such casualness can often create misunderstandings
and stand in the way of establishing a
positive relationship between communicating parties.
The fact that so much communicating is done by
email rather than person to person, over the phone,
or even face to face across an office desk suggests that
a few guidelines may be in order if you want to create
and maintain any kind of decorum in your business

Do not insert the recipient’s email address
until you are ready to push Send.

To improve email communication consider:

  1. To avoid the embarrassment of sending an email
    before it is finished, do not insert the recipient’s
    email address until you are ready to push Send.
  2. Make sure the subject line summarizes the content.
    If your recipient receives scores of emails every day,
    the subject matter of your email must be obvious
    at first glance or it may be left unread. The subject
    line should always be filled in to reduce the
    possibility that the email will be identified as spam
    by the recipient’s antivirus software.
  3. Start the body of your email with a courteous salutation
    to avoid appearing demanding or abrupt.
  4. Keep the body text as short as possible. No one has
    the time to read all the details of something that is
    better expressed in an attachment.
  5. Use a measured level of formality. Clients usually
    prefer traditional greetings. When addressing
    anyone with a title (e.g., Assistant Vice-President,
    Sales), use it. People have worked hard for those
    titles and love to see them used. If you are not
    sure, check the company directory or call the main
  6. Using Smiley icons is not appropriate.
  7. Always double check to ensure the name, initials,
    title and gender of the recipient are correct (e.g., is
    it McDonald or Macdonald?). Many last names are
    now used as first names for both men and women
    (i.e., Mackenzie, Cameron). With people from so
    many diverse cultures working in business today,
    you may not be familiar with many naming protocols.
    If in doubt, check the spelling of the name in
    the office directory and ascertain the gender of the
  8. Ms. is probably the safest way to address a woman
    recipient. “Miss” seems to have dropped out of business
    language as a form of address and Mrs. should
    not be used unless you are sure of the woman’s
    marital status, that she is using her married name
    and that she prefers to be addressed in that way.
  9. Never send an email without checking the spelling. Do not rely on spell check alone. Spell check will
    sometimes accept a word that is correctly spelled
    but is incorrect in the context. You never know who
    all will read your email and correct spelling gives
    an impression of care and professionalism to those
    whose first encounter with your name is through
    this email.
  10. Punctuation, capitals, full sentences and all other
    writing protocols should be followed.
  11. When you read the proposed email does it answer
    the “Who, What, Why, When, Where” criteria?
    This approach will reduce the annoying back-andforth
    emails seeking answers to the initial enquiry.
  12. Ensure that your carrier can support the file size of
    any attachments. Better yet, compress the file before
    attaching. This avoids fractured files and wasted
  13. Always check the email address before the email
    is sent to avoid the embarrassment of sending the
    data to the wrong individual.
  14. Never forward emails received if there is any possibility
    the attachments may contain viruses. Ensure
    your antivirus software scans for data received
    from third parties to reduce the risk of forwarding
    infected correspondence.
  15. If there is a possibility that a virus was forwarded,
    contact the recipient at once.
  16. Confirm the recipient has the appropriate software
    to open the attachment. If secured by passwords,
    phone the password to the recipient.
  17. Always identify the software used for the data.
    This saves the recipient time trying out various
  18. Limit the details in the email and place them in an
    attachment. Scan and attach your hard copy letter
    or use your computerized letterhead and attach.
  19. When responding to emails, always remove the
    addresses of those who do not need to receive the
  20. If you need a response to an email, request it in the
    body. If a response has not been received, check
    your Trash bin before you contact the recipient
    from whom you are expecting a response. This
    ensures the message was not directed there by your
    antivirus software.
  21. Save important business correspondence to a client
    file. Relying on Sent or Deleted for recovery does
    not work if those files are erased either intentionally
    or accidentally.
  22. Review each email before hitting Send. Ensure the
    message is clear and the tone is appropriate to the
    content and the recipient. Open the attachment
    before sending to check that it is the correct one.
  23. Take time between receiving an email and responding.
    If the issue requires research, respond to the
    sender with an estimate of when a response can be
  24. Privacy laws in Canada and other countries require
    businesses to safeguard personal information
    such as a person’s name and date of birth. Use an
    encryption program for all emails that contain any
    personal or corporate information.
  25. If a misunderstanding seems to have been created
    in an email communication, pick up the telephone
    and call the recipient to discuss the issues.
  26. End emails politely with the tried and true “Sincerely,”
    “Regards” or “Thank you.”
  27. Providing name, address and alternate means
    of contacting you with telephone or Skype is an
    excellent means of ensuring communication lines
    are open in the event of Internet failure.
  28. Never write and send an email that is emotionally
    charged. Always reflect on how the expression of
    emotion may impact the recipient’s view of your
    business or others to whom it may be forwarded.

Good Manners

Email has changed business communication forever.
Nevertheless, it is wise to use courteous email-writing
practices that respect the recipient and support good
business relations.



The information provided on this page is intended to provide general information. The information does not take into account your personal situation and is not intended to be used without consultation from accounting and financial professionals. Allan Madan and Madan Chartered Accountant will not be held liable for any problems that arise from the usage of the information provided on this page.


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