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Electronic Communication Creation Best Practices

Email has become one of the primary means of communicating and sharing information. As with any communication, it projects an image of the University. It is important to represent your department in a professional manner by using proper language and structure to convey a professional image. Email messages that get to the point are much more effective than poorly worded or poorly constructed messages. Don't say anything in an email message that you would not want to be made public or forwarded to others. Remember email is subject to disclosure and discovery, federal and state laws including Missouri's Sunshine Law, and copyright laws. Assume all messages are permanent and public.

Guidelines:

  • Know your audience - your intended audience will often influence your choice of language and style.
  • Write a concise descriptive and meaningful subject line your reader will understand - Make sure the subject line relates to the message content. This is helps the recipient file and retrieve messages.
  • Write in appropriate business style and language - Use of email at the University is for business purposes and should be viewed as a professional communication. Email messages should manifest a positive image of the department and the University.
  • Keep messages brief and to the point - Reading email is more difficult than reading printed communications.
  • Write single subject email messages whenever possible and stick to the subject - This makes categorizing, filing and disposing of messages easier.
  • Put the important information in the first paragraph - Get the most important points across quickly. Readers often scan the first paragraph and make a judgment about the entire message based on the first few lines.
  • Use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation - Poor spelling, grammar and punctuation give a bad impression of you, your department and the University. It also makes the message difficult to read and can even change the meaning of the text. Professionalism extends to all forms of communications: written, verbal, and electronic.
  • Use proper structure and layout - Makes messages easier and quicker to read and understand.
    • Keep sentences to 15 - 20 words
    • Use short paragraphs with blank lines between each paragraph
    • Use sub-topic headings in long messages
    • Use bullets or numbers whenever possible
    • Use "active" rather than "passive" voice
  • Do not write in all capital letters - is generally interpreted as SHOUTING, is difficult to read, and may annoy readers by slowing them down as well as impeding their understanding of the message.
  • Likewise do not write in all lower case letters - Lower case letters convey an informal tone and is likely to make you look lazy and unprofessional.
  • Avoid offensive language of any kind - The use of offensive language can result in litigation against you and the University. All communication should adhere to the University's harassment, discrimination, and information management policies.
  • Use acronyms, abbreviations and emotioncons with care and sparingly - They may be confusing if the recipients are not be aware of their meaning and are generally not appropriate in business communications.
  • Verify your distribution lists - Lists should be kept up-to-date. When sending to a distribution list make sure everyone on the list needs to know the information in the message.
  • Proof read your message before you send - Reading the email message through the eyes of the recipient can create a more effective message and avoid misunderstandings and inappropriate comments as well as avoid spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.
  • Don't overuse 'Reply To All' - Only use this feature if the reply needs to be seen by each person who received the original message. Carbon copied recipients are not required to reply to messages. Unnecessary messages clog the email system.

Reviewed 2011-10-07.