In this world of texting, tweeting, and emailing, language has changed, which isn’t unusual. I would argue, however, that because of all this texting, tweeting, and emailing, we’ve become much lazier in our language usage when writing business emails: we’re much more likely to use a cliché or overused phrase because doing so is easy. To have proper business email etiquette, eliminating such words and phrases are essential: we may be allowing our readers to decide for themselves what the phrase means, which means that we’re not in control of the document, and we may be showing that we’re lazy; that is, that we’re perfectly willing to use a cliché or overused phrase rather than try and think of a more precise word or phrase. And what we’re seeing in business is a trend toward using words and phrases that mean nothing because they’re so overused.
The question, then, is why do so many business writers use overused words and phrases? Sometimes it’s to show that they understand the lingo of the organization they work in and that they’re “in the loop.” But other times it’s because they simply don’t think critically about the words they use and that words carry weight. One of the more common examples is ending a letter with “Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.” And the rest of that final paragraph goes on to elaborate on the times the reader may call and what number; it goes on and on and provides little in terms of important information. Understand that a reader will call even if you don’t give her permission; in addition, suggesting that the reader may have questions indicates that you didn’t do your job in ensuring that the document answered all questions.
The question we often get when we suggest ending with a different kind of paragraph is, as you can guess, “Well, how am I supposed to end?” And the answer is this: end with a forward-looking statement or some statement that shows the reader that you are a thinker and that you care about the document and how it, and you and your organization, are perceived.
We’re seeing two other trends that make absolutely no sense when writing business emails. One is beginning an email (or other correspondence) with “Hope all is well” or “Hope this email finds you well.” This shows a lack of business email etiquette. While some writers argue that this is an attempt to show the reader that you care or are interested, because it’s used so often, it falls flat. I roll my eyes when I see this, as those who include it typically don’t know me well (or at all). If they did know me, they certainly wouldn’t begin the email with “Hope you are well.”
Another trend is using “current” or “currently,” as in “I am currently out of the office.” I can figure out that you’re “currently” not in the office even if you didn’t use “currently” simply by the verb tense. The caveat to not using “current” or “currently” is if you’re comparing something historic to the present, but that’s about the only time it should be used. I was working with a participant in one of our courses the other day and he’d used “currently” three times in one paragraph!
When writing business emails, the point is not that words (or phrases) are either good or bad, but that writers should be aware that using overused words and phrases doesn’t present our work (or our thinking) in the best possible light and may, in fact, make us appear to be less professional.
The next time you’re inclined to “utilize” “blue sky thinking” before “moving forward” with your next email, understand that their usage may make you seem lazy or worse, their usage may cloud meaning. Unfortunately, so many writers in the workplace, lacking confidence in their own writing skills, fall into the terrible habit of using words or phrases that they’ve seen or heard others use, without questioning if these words or phrases actually convey the appropriate idea. More important perhaps is that they don’t question if the words will make reading and understanding the document easier for readers, which is the ultimate goal when writing a business email.