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Email Etiquette for the Business World

Quick, efficient and easy to use, email has become a resource way to communicate. But the email style you use to send messages to friends won’t always work with business email. So what’s the proper way to communicate in a business email?

“The overriding rule is to subject your email to the same scrutiny you would give to letters or other printed matter,” says Katherine R. Hutt, president of Nautilus Communications, Inc., a public relations firm based in Vienna, Virginia. In other words, as you write your business email, use the same degree of formality as sending a message printed on company letterhead.

With clients ranging from non-profit agencies to high-powered Washington D.C. law firms, Hutt’s company does 75% of its communications by email. She provides her suggestions on how to use email as a professional communications tool:

- Address your email with the recipients name as well as their email address. Set your options so that your full name and email address appear in the "from" line.

- Use a formal salutation such as "Dear Ms. Jones." If you have an established relationship, a more casual "Dear Jennifer" is okay.

- Email "signatures" are the electronic version of company letterhead. Create your own signature with your name, title, company, address (or at least city, state and country) and telephone number. You can also add your full mailing address, fax number, Web site and email address. The signature should not run more than six or eight lines.

- Don't use "fancy" graphics or fonts, since some email programs cannot read them.

- Check spelling, grammar and punctuation before you click the send button. Never use all lowercase or all uppercase letters.

- Do not indent paragraphs, since some programs will read this as an extra space.

- Use professional language and formal style in letters to people you don't know or only know professionally. Don't use "emoticons"—those smiley faces, frowns, etc.—in any business letter.

- Always "sign" your emails with a closing phrase, such as "Sincerely" or "Best regards," followed by your name.

There’s one more thing to remember about business email, and it regards privacy. Hutt offers this final tip: Nothing sent through cyberspace is confidential. Your email can easily be forwarded, on purpose or by accident to anyone. So be cautious of what type of information you include in your business correspondence.

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