Writing the wrongs

The way in which we communicate at work has changed rapidly in the past 20 years. Whereas once we solely relied on the postal service for all our written correspondence, these days email, fax and even text are our main communication tools and it rarely occurs to us to put pen to paper.
In fact, even when a letter is deemed necessary it’s fairly often the case that a template will be used. This in itself can pose problems, forgetting to update names, dates and even content can be disastrous.

There’s nothing that says a company doesn’t see you as an individual more than receiving a standard letter that you know has been sent out to a million other people and so doesn’t address your individual query at all.

So how do we get it right? For letters, the rules haven’t changed much and as they’re considered formal it’s all pretty straightforward. But when putting together an email, how formal do you really need to be?

How do you follow up to a meeting?
Say, you’re following up a business meeting with a client you’ve met only once, what are the rules? Should you use the recipient’s first name? Do you need to write “Dear” or would a simple “Hi” be enough? Is “Hi Margaret” better that “Dear Ms Jones”? While one seems too informal, the other appears too stuffy for an email. Once you’ve overcome that obstacle, how do you end the email? Do you write, “Yours sincerely”? Or would “Kind regards” be better? Or, should it be “Best Regards” or even simply “Regards”?

It’s a minefield and it seems there are no hard and fast rules for emails. Luckily, there has become a generally accepted consensus that erring on the side of formality is best. Beginning an email with “Dear” and ending it with “Kind regards” is entirely acceptable.

When written correctly, emails will show the company’s employees as professional, efficient and good communicators. They will also protect the firm from misunderstandings that leave the business open to liability.

There are a few other golden rules that have become standard and effective practice. These include being clear and concise, never writing in capital letters – because it looks as though YOU’RE SHOUTING – giving clear subject headings and maintaining a professional formality throughout. It’s never ever acceptable to write in so-called text-speak. “CU l8ter” could be career suicide.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has stated that there are currently millions of people in the UK’s workforce who lack basic literacy, numeracy and language skills. Companies should be focusing on lower levels of training to address these issues.