Tips on Business Email: Addressing the Email
February 11, 2011 3 Comments
My last post on business communication was well-received, so I thought I’d expand upon a crucial aspect of communication. There are tons of articles on the subject, but here is what I have learned personally. Some of these were suggestions from bosses or co-workers, and some I’ve picked up through observation or the hard way – by making mistakes.
This is long, so I’m breaking this up into three parts: the “who” (addressing the email), the “what” (drafting the message) and the “how” (sending the email). First, I’ll cover the “who”, or what to keep in mind about your recipients.
Address people correctly.
How do you know what’s correct? How do you know whether to write to Kelly Glass starting with a formal “Dear Ms. Glass” or with a breezy “Hey, Kelly!” Here are the tips I follow:
- If you have received an email from the recipient, check to see what term of address and signature she uses. If she begins “Dear Unmana” and signs off with a shortened version of her name (e.g., “Liz” for “Elizabeth”) or with her initials, you can be pretty certain you can address her by her first name or nickname.
- If you haven’t, follow what your company does. Does your CEO sign off with his full name or just his first name? What about your immediate supervisor?
- When in doubt, go formal. I prefer being addressed by my first name, but I wouldn’t take offence if you addressed me as “Ms. Datta”. But if you write to someone who prefers to be known as “Mrs Michael Goldman” and start “Hi Linda,” she might be less than thrilled.
- Building on the last point, if you choose to go formal and it’s a woman on the other end, do you address her as “Miss,” “Mrs.,” or “Ms.”? Unless you know the correspondent prefers otherwise, go with “Ms.” It’s the preferred form for business communication, and keeps personal matters like marital status out of the picture.
Use the “To” Field Correctly.
Why does email have three address fields: “To”, “CC” and “BCC”? When do you use which?
- If you are writing to just one person, this is easy: you put him or her in the “To” field and don’t bother about the others.
- If you have multiple recipients, you only put those recipients’ addresses in the “To” field who are directly concerned with (i.e., need to act on) the information in the email.
- If you decide to put all your recipients in the “To” field, clearly state within the body of the email which of them is supposed to act on it. Say, you’re writing to Clara and Ralph about a customer’s feedback: mention that Clara’s supposed to fix the issue while Ralph is supposed to talk to the customer.
Use CC Correctly.
You send a “carbon copy” to someone who should be aware of a certain message or communication, but doesn’t need to be involved. Common examples are copying your boss on conversations of which she should be aware, copying your team on a message to one member when you expect the rest of them to know of the situation or help in some way, or copying someone when you mention them in the conversation (e.g., “Kelly tells me you require my assistance with . . .”).
Remember, most people get a lot of business email. I suspect the higher-up someone is in the organizational hierarchy, the more email they get. So don’t copy someone unless you are sure they should be listening in.
Use “Reply to All” Sparingly.
If you get an email to a group of people, and you hit “Reply All”, the sender of the original message is in the “To” box and everyone else is in the “CC” box. So the same guidelines apply as for “CC”: unless the other people are needed to be within the conversation, take them off. If what you say only applies to one in the group, email them directly. If you are the email sender and one person replies with a specific response that might not be relevant for the rest of the group, reply only to that person. If the email communication gets protracted with suggestions and opinions and explanations pouring in from all sides, call a meeting. Over-using this feature contributes to full in-boxes and an inappropriate distribution of information.
(Don’t) Use BCC.
There’s only one correct use for sending a “blind carbon copy” so that your primary recipient isn’t aware that someone else has been copied on the email. That’s when you send an announcement (business or personal) to a large bunch of people or to a group of people who may not know each other. It is poor form to apply this as a way to inform someone else of a one-to-one dialog (akin to having a third person listen into a telephone conversation).
Next week, I suggest points to keep in mind while drafting your message.