Be Careful With E-mail

I’ve heard many times that only a small percentage of what you communicate when you speak is done with the words. The rest is communicated through body language and tone. This obviously does not apply to e-mail.

In an e-mail, your words are all that matters. That is, unless you have mastered emoticons and characters :). They allow you to tease or be sarcastic in an e-mail without fear of sending the wrong message. Yet teasing, sarcasm and emoticons are not usually appropriate for professional e-mails with your clients. That means your words will have to do. As such, it is important to pay attention to what you write.

Yesterday, one of our editors forwarded an e-mail to me from a gentleman considering contributing some “how to” articles to our website. He suggested she review some of his current articles. She had difficulty finding these on his website and sent him an e-mail asking about where he kept the majority of his articles. She specifically asked for a URL. This gentleman interpreted her URL request as a sign that she didn’t know his website address. He sent her a shocked and curt e-mail asking if she even cared about the quality of content on our site, because he didn’t believe she had even taken the time to review his site.

We absolutely do care about the quality of content on our site. Yet this gentleman’s e-mail was a valid response based on his interpretation of her e-mail. E-mail doesn’t let you communicate tone. It doesn’t allow you to obtain cues from the other party about whether they are following your train of thought. With that in mind, be careful when sending e-mails. Words matter.

Here are two rules of thumb to keep in mind when writing and reading e-mail:

  1. As a reader: Give writers the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to conclusions and try to ask clarifying questions.
  2. As a writer: Make sure you express your thoughts clearly. It won’t take you receiving many fiery e-mails from clients or affiliates to figure out where you can improve.


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