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Business Email Is Not A Teenage Chat Room

Sloppily Written Emails Waste Time And Money Don't get me wrong. I love teenagers. I used to be one. I just don't want to spend my day in one of their chat rooms, especially when I'm at the office.

What does this email say?

Today, I got back to my office late in the day after a series of meeting. There were a few emails in my inbox. I read them, answered two that needed replies, and then stopped dead on the last one. It was so poorly written it looked like the transcript of a teenager's chat room. I re-read it and still didn't understand. Tomorrow I will call the sender and ask him what he meant, but that's more time wasted - for both of us.

Don't waste my time

The sender of the email works different hours than I do. He's in about 3 hours earlier than I am every day and so goes home earlier too. When he gets to the office tomorrow, he's going to be looking for an answer from me - I think.

It won't be there because I don't understand his email. He'll waste time looking through his incoming email, just like I wasted time reading and then re-reading his email. We will both waste more time on the phone tomorrow as I call him to see what he meant. It would have been so easy if he could have written this business email like a business document rather than a scribbled note.

Don't make me guess

I know most abbreviations, emoticons, and chat room shorthand. It makes me ROTFL when an OTL confuses LOL with BRB. SCOMK (spitting coke on my keyboard) and MOMN (milk out my nose) are fine in a social chat room, but CUL8R does not belong in a business communication.

We have a thread on the Management Forum about Three-Letter-Acronyms (TLAs). It's one form of jargon that most businesses engage in. The difference is that most people in the company, or the industry, use the same TLAs. Sometimes, in an effort to save time, people create new ones that aren't in common usage. An HR manager wrote about an ETA and I thought she meant Estimated Time of Arrival. That made no sense in the email, so I asked her. She meant Employee Termination Agreement. That was more time wasted.

Use (just) enough words

No one wants to waste time reading long, involved paragraphs when they can skim a bulleted list.
  • But if the list
  • makes no
  • sense in that
  • format
it would have taken less time to read one complete sentence than to re-read the list several times to try to figure it out. Use enough words to make you point clear, but don't use any more words than you need to.

Read before sending

Before you send any business communication, stop and read it. Even if it is only a one sentence reply to a question from your assistant, you can eliminate some errors and save wasted time by proof-reading what you wrote.

Don't rely on spell checking software. That only catches gross errors. It doesn't catch real words in the wrong place. In a recent document I hit the h key instead of the w key. "He has gone" and "he was gone" are both legitimate sentences, but they mean different things. Similarly, grammar checking software may help you avoid using there when you meant their, but it can't read your mind. "Tell him I can come" will be accepted by every grammar checker, but they won't know you really meant to say "tell him I can't come".

Manage this issue

You can save time, and money, by taking the time to make your emails and other business communications clear the first time.
  • Don't make the reader guess your meaning.
  • Use enough words to make your point, but don't get wordy.
  • Read your message before sending it to be sure it's right

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