Week 4 – Business E-mail Guidelines

Munter, Mary, Priscilla S Rogers, and Jone Rymer. “Business E-Mail: Guidelines for Users.” Business Communication Quarterly 66, no. 1 (2003): 26-40.

E-mail has become so widespread in both the private and public sector that most people do not take the time to thoughtfully consider its implications, uses, and pitfalls.  These guidelines for business e-mail articulate the complexity of its form and offer suggestions and norms of protocol to follow.  The bulk of these guidelines focuses around two key aspects: clear communication and understanding audience needs.  Indeed, nearly all of the aspects covered in this article could fall under one of the two headings.  As simple as it sounds, considering these elements and then “thinking twice before you hit, ‘Send”” could eliminate many of the detriments associated with e-mail communication in business.

As a teacher in a high school, I communicate with administrators, other teachers, and parents with high frequency via e-mail.  I have to make a conscious effort to keep my reader in mind for each e-mail I send.  For example, my communication with my team leader is quite informal because we e-mail each other multiple times a day and because we work so closely together.  However, communicating with parents involves allowing sufficient time to revise and rethink the content of my e-mails.  When I first started teaching, my mentor teacher told me, “Never say anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want posted on the school wall or read aloud over the announcements.”  This has probably been one of the best pieces of advice I have been given so far in my teaching career.  I have seen firsthand the problems associated with indiscriminately sent e-mails or careless forwarding.   The greatest benefit of e-mail is also its greatest pitfall:  it records the conversation and leaves a paper trail (29).

Currently, I’m teaching in place of a teacher who has been placed on administrative leave.  The details of the investigation are unknown to me, but reading this chapter reminded me that these guidelines for e-mail use are not simply “good practices” for business communication: they are crucial for maintaining integrity in the workplace and for avoiding false accusations.

Because of the popularity of smart phones, it is becoming more common for people to check and respond to e-mails from their phones.  What problems or changes could occur in terms of e-mail communication being dispersed in this manner?  Do you think it would change or eliminate any of these guidelines for the future?


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