I received an email this week from a reader containing one sentence and an attached resume. The sentence read “Please tell me the next step I should take in my career.” I sent him a brief answer, but would like to give him, and those like him, a longer answer to his question.
Let’s begin by discussing the importance of written communication. The standard party line for this topic is that the quality of the emails you write, the presentations you display, and the documents you create are a reflection of your professional ability, attitude, and attention to detail. Yes, this is all true. Let’s, however, expand this statement into the virtual world we now live and work in.
In recent years, the advent of email, twitter, wikis, blogs, discussion boards, and social media in general has caused a resurgence, if not a rebirth, of the written work by everyday people. In the workplace this is magnified by the popularity of virtual teams spanning across the street, around the country, and around the world. As a result, many of the people you work with today, maybe even including your boss, you may never meet in person causing your main interpersonal communication to be totally phone and email based.
There have been various studies that have said that a relatively small percentage of the communications between people are based on the word and that the majority of the communication is based on body language and voice tone. These studies range from 93% body language and non-verbal queues by James Borg to studies by others ranging from 60% - 70% non-verbal. Whatever the exact number is, it’s very significant. That said, when sending an email, tweet, blog, or other written correspondence, if not written well it may be incorrectly interpreted.
All that said, here are tips that may be of value to you when writing business related written correspondence:
1. Don’t write anything in an email that you don’t want your spouse, kids, mother, friends, boss, customers, or the readers of the front page of the Wall Street Journal to read. Once you send an email to someone, where it goes next is totally out of your control. 2. Write as you speak. Don’t try using big words, fancy language and/or clever turn of phrase with the hope of impressing your friends, unless you are an accomplished writer it’s very hard to do well. 3. Avoid using jargon, even if this is how you speak. Using phrases like “This is where the rubber meets the road” and “the 50,000 foot view is . . .” is not received well by business people who feel these phrases are overused. 4. Avoid typos at all costs. It destroys the credibility of your document. Some people won’t care, but there are a large number people who immediately see typos. It almost seems that the typos just off jump the page. These gifted individuals will find reading your documents painful at best. 5. Don’t tell jokes or try to be cute in your memos. It may accidently offend people. 6. Long isn’t better, it’s just long. Short, well written business correspondence beats long and rambling every time. 7. Double check the spelling of people’s names. Debbie is sometimes spelled Debby and John is sometimes spelled Jon. 8. Be careful when referring to people you don’t know. Chris, Terry, Jo, and other names could be male or female. Also, double check the gender and spelling of people from countries and ethnic backgrounds of which you are not familiar. It can save you from an embarrassing mistake. 9. Save all of your emails and written documents for future use. Business issues and situations tend to resurface. Having your old correspondence within reach can save you the time of rewriting it from scratch. 10. Know your audience. If the key person/people receiving the email like bullet points, write bullet points. If they prefer detailed written text, write detailed written text. 11. When writing an email to a specific person or persons, remember to use good manners. That’s please, thank you, and other appropriate pleasantries. 12. If you are unsure if your email properly reflects the business issues, ask someone you trust and respect to read and critique it first before you send it out.
In closing, remember that your written word represents your abilities and professionalism. Consider this every time you press the “Send” button on your email or the “Submit” button on your social media tool of choice. Also know that once published, it will be difficult or impossible to retrieve.
If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.
Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.
Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.