An important part of successful communication is determining the correct tone you need to adopt for your audience. Writing to your boss, your office mate, or your client is no different—you’ll still need to pick the appropriate tone so they’ll respond to you in a favorable manner. Sounding professional is not just about your tone of voice over the phone or during a meeting; it starts with your email or your memo.
A professionally-written message can set the tone that will make or break your transaction with other people, so here are some tips to help you write professionally for your emails, memos, or letters:
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT.
Before any writing is started, it’s important to know what you really want from the other person/s. Read up on whatever it is that you need. You might be surprised to find you may have overlooked a table or page that has all the information you need. This can save you time and embarrassment.
Researching before asking is also a good way of adding more insight when expressing what you need. Try to answer the questions yourself first before asking others. Being knowledgeable in your query gives your reader the impression that you know what you want and you’ve exhausted all avenues for getting it save for asking him or her for it.
CLARIFY THE SUBJECT.
In your email composer’s Subject field, take time to write down what it is you need from the recipient. “Hi there” or “Greetings” are not the best ways to state your intention in the Subject field, while “Q4 2009 Budget Report Questions” is much more informative. The subject of your email will give your recipient an idea of what you need to know, getting the gears in motion for a quicker answer.
USE ENGLISH IN YOUR TEXT.
If you need to put in Filipino words, set them in italics, but please note that you only use this for nouns and not anything else. “We will be serving adobo and kare-kare” is good while “Please inform me naman of the progress” is not. Filipino words should be used when no English word suffices to get your meaning across. This is especially essential in multinational companies—in which case, you may still need to give an English description of the item you’re identifying in Filipino.
NO COLLOQUIALISMS, PLEASE.
Always keep in mind this in mind when writing a formal letter of intent or request, because you are writing as a representative of your business or company. You can chat or talk informally via your instant messengers or SMS. Your business-related emails are always to be kept formal.
A THESAURUS IS NOT A DINOSAUR.
Using synonyms for frequently-used words can help make your letter less tiring to read. As an extension, a dictionary is helpful as well. While your word processor has a built-in synonym finder and spell check function, it’s always better to expand your knowledge and have these tomes with you. Don’t have a thesaurus or dictionary on hand? Thesaurus.com and Dictionary.com will go a long way in helping you out! For American English, you may want to use the Merriam-Webster site, which offers both an online dictionary and thesaurus.
BRUSH UP ON YOUR GRAMMAR.
Some people still fall for the your and you’re or the its and it’s dilemma. Watching your grammar can go a long way in ensuring you’re not confusing your recipient. Dictionary.com has a collected list of literary and grammar terms that come in handy. Browse during your free time and be free of grammatical errors!
USE FORMAL BUSINESS WRITING FORMAT.
It’s only appropriate anyway, right? If you’re not sure what the format is, About.com has downloadable samples while Colorado State University has broken down the parts of a formal letter.
AVOID THE HEARTS AND FLOWERS.
Another point for formatting: no cutesy backgrounds, multi-colored fonts, stationery, or signatures. If your company has a prescribed email stationery or signature formats, you should of course use this, but you should resist the urge to have your emails show a little personal flavor by including pictures of yourself and your hubby in your signature or having colorful background.
You may love designs with hearts or puppies or curlicues in them, but they have no place in formal business communications. Moreover, they may annoy your clients, colleagues, and bosses and will give the impression that you are not a professional person. A plain white background and a signature with your name, position, and company information may seem spartan to you, but to the rest of the world, it says that you are straightforward and focused on business.
BLACK-ON-WHITE MEANS BUSINESS.
With this same philosophy, use plain black or dark blue font colors in your emails, and use black exclusively in your printed memos and letters—it's impersonal and easy on the eyes for your recipients. If you do need to use colors other than these, they should be used sparingly and only for emphasis—and that only when putting things in bold or italics doesn't serve the purpose.
Also, for printed material, black is much cheaper—using colored ink for no reason at all is frankly a waste of office resources. Don't care? Think of it this way: the money your office spends on supplies adds up, and the more your company spends on things like printer ink or toner, the less money it'll have to budget on things like office parties, bonuses, and raises.
IT’S ALL ABOUT STRUCTURE.
Formalities are easy to write. The real meat of your message is what your recipient will be reading. Clearly state why you are sending the email, and then go to possible solutions or what you want to accomplish. Be open about receiving ideas or other options that your recipient might give. For a brief but informative step-by-step guide on how to structure good emails, check out this article on eHow.com.
ALWAYS BE POLITE.
There might be times when you want to claw your recipient’s brains out, and this will show when you write your messages. People can “feel” the emotions behind the text, so keep this in mind. As a rule, be as objective as possible when writing professionally. Take the time to cool down before you reply to an incendiary message or draft a new message about a topic that stresses you out. Remember that politeness can get you results faster as opposed to being rude or combative. A simple “thank you and hope to receive a reply soon” before your name or signature can help in garnering a very favorable response. For more on email etiquette, check out FN's eight tips.
WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK AROUND.
If you want to cover all your bases when it comes to your concern and you think you’re ready to send that very important email to a client or manager, have your immediate supervisor or a colleague look your text over. Having a fresh pair of eyes to spot any errors can be a lifesaver!
Sounding professional in your emails or letters doesn’t need pretending or putting up the illusion of professionalism. The more practice you have in this kind of exercise, the more you’ll realize it becomes second nature. Just remember not to use these tips when a friend emails you about that weekend get-together!
(Photo source: sxc.hu)