Text messaging, emailing, and posting on social media in a professional context requires that you be familiar with , or proper etiquette for using the internet. We have all heard the news stories about people who have been fired and companies that have been boycotted for making offensive or inappropriate social media posts. People have even gone to prison for illegal use of private messaging. The digital world may seem like a free-for-all, “wild wild west” with no clear rules or regulations; however, this is clearly a dangerous perspective for a professional to take, as the consequences for breaking tacit rules, expectations, and guidelines for professional communications can be very costly.
The way that you represent yourself in writing carries significant weight. Writing in an online environment requires tact, skill, and an awareness that what you write may be there for a very long time and may be seen by people you never considered as your intended audience. From text messages to to letters, from business proposals to press releases, your written business communication represents you and your company: your goal is to make it clear, concise, constructive, and professional.
We create personal pages, post messages, and interact via online technologies as a normal part of our careers, but how we conduct ourselves can leave a lasting image, literally. The photograph you posted on your Instagram page or Twitter feed may have been seen by your potential employer or that insensitive remark in a Facebook post may come back to haunt you later.
Following several guidelines for online postings, as detailed below, can help you avoid embarrassment later:
- Know your context:
- Introduce yourself.
- Avoid assumptions about your readers; remember that culture influences communication style and practices.
- Familiarize yourself with policies on acceptable use of IT resources at your organization.
- Remember the human:
- Remember there is a person behind the words; ask for clarification before making judgment.
- Check your before you publish; avoid jokes, sarcasm, and irony as these can often be misinterpreted and get “lost in translation” in the online environment.
- Respond to people using their names.
- Remember that culture, age, and gender can play a part in how people communicate.
- Remain authentic and expect the same of others.
- Remember that people may not reply immediately. People participate in different ways, some just by reading the communication rather than jumping into it.
- Recognize that text is permanent:
- Be judicious and diplomatic; what you say online may be difficult or even impossible to retract later.
- Consider your responsibility to the group and to the working environment.
- Agree on ground rules for text communication (formal or informal; seek clarification whenever needed) if you are working collaboratively.
- Avoid flaming: research before you react:
- Accept and forgive mistakes.
- Consider your responsibility to the group and to the working environment.
- Seek clarification before reacting; what you heard is not always what was said.
- Ask your supervisor for guidance.*
- Respect privacy and original ideas:
- Quote the original author if you are responding with a specific point made by someone else.
- Ask the author of an email for permission before forwarding the communication.
* Sometimes, online behaviour can appear so disrespectful and even hostile that it requires attention and follow up. In this case, let your supervisor know right away so that the right resources can be called upon to help.
For further information on netiquette, check out the following links:
- Business Insider: Email etiquette rules every professional needs to know
- LinkedIn: Why is email etiquette important
Whatever digital device you use, written communication in the form of brief messages, or texting, has become a common way to connect. This is particularly true with , such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, which are becoming increasingly popular with companies as a means for employees to quickly communicate with each other.
On these platforms, short exchanges are common as they are a convenient way to stay connected with others when talking on the phone or sending an email would be cumbersome. If you need a quick, brief answer right away, texting is often the best choice.
However, you also need to be mindful of the company culture and what is deemed “appropriate” on these platforms. For example, when people text their friends and family, they often send as a way to communicate their reactions. Should you also do this at your company? It depends. Some companies are okay with it; some are not. Even if they are okay with you using gifs, there may be rules around the types of gifs that are sent. Pay attention to how others are communicating in these spaces and use that as a guide for your own communication style.
In summary, texting is not useful for long or complicated messages. When deciding whether a text or email is better, careful consideration should be given to the . Wouldn’t it seem strange if someone sent you a text that was like an email?
Watch the short video below:
When texting, always consider your audience and your company, and choose words, terms, or abbreviations that will deliver your message appropriately and effectively.
If your work situation allows or requires you to communicate via text messages, keep the following tips in mind:
- Know your recipient: “? % dsct” may be an understandable way to ask a close associate what the proper discount is to offer a certain customer, but if you are writing a text to your boss, it might be wiser to write, “what % discount does Murray get on $1K order?”
- Anticipate unintentional misinterpretation: texting often uses symbols and codes to represent thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Given the complexity of communication, and the useful but limited tool of texting, be aware of its limitation and prevent misinterpretation with brief messages.
- Use appropriately: contacting someone too frequently can border on harassment. Texting is a tool. Use it when appropriate, but don’t abuse it.
- Don’t text and drive: research shows that the likelihood of an accident increases dramatically if the driver is texting behind the wheel (“Deadly distraction,” 2009). Being in an accident while conducting company business would reflect poorly on your judgment, as well as on your employer. (And we all want you to live a long, healthy, happy life, don’t text and drive.)
Email is familiar to most students and workers. In business, it has largely replaced hard copy for correspondence and it has mostly taken the place of for internal communication (Guffey, 2008). The email format was modelled after the memo format, but has morphed into an electronic memo-letter hybrid.
Email can be very useful for messages that have slightly more content than a text message, but it is still best used for fairly brief messages. Many businesses use automated emails to acknowledge communications from the public or to remind associates that periodic reports or payments are due. You may also be assigned to “populate” a form email in which standard paragraphs are used, but you choose from a menu of sentences to make the wording suitable for a particular transaction.
Emails may be informal in personal contexts, but business communication requires attention to detail, awareness that your email reflects you and your company, and a professional so that it may be forwarded to any third party if needed. Email often serves to exchange information within organizations. Although email may have an informal feel, remember that when used for business, it needs to convey professionalism and respect. Never write or send anything that you wouldn’t want read in public or in front of senior management.
As with all writing, professional communications require attention to the specific writing context and it may surprise you that even elements of form can indicate a writer’s strong understanding of and purpose. The principles explained here apply to the educational context, as well; use them when communicating with your instructors and classroom peers.
Open with a proper salutation: proper salutations demonstrate respect and avoid mix-ups in case a message is accidentally sent to the wrong recipient. For example, use a salutation such as “Dear Dr. X” (external) or “Hi Barry” (internal).
Include a clear, brief, and specific subject line: this helps the recipient understand the essence of the message. For example, “Research proposal attached” or “Electrical specs for project Y.”
Close with a signature: identify yourself by creating a signature block that automatically contains your name and business contact information.
Avoid abbreviations: an email is not a text message and the audience may not find your wit cause to ROTFLOL (roll on the floor laughing out loud). There is a huge leap in formality between a text message, social media post, and an email. When in doubt, be more formal in an email.
Be brief: omit unnecessary words.
Use a good format: divide your message into brief paragraphs for ease of reading. A good email should get to the point and conclude in three small paragraphs or less.
Reread, revise, and review: catch and correct spelling and grammar mistakes before you press “send.” It will take more time and effort to undo the problems caused by a hasty, poorly written email than to take the time to get it right the first time.
Reply promptly: watch out for an emotional response—never reply in anger—but make a habit of replying to all emails within 24 hours, even if only to say that you will provide the requested information in a particular time frame.
Avoid using all caps: capital letters are used on the Internet to communicate emphatic emotion or yelling and are considered rude. This is known as “shouting” at your reader.
Test links: if you include a link, test it to make sure it is working.
Note the size of email attachments: audio and visual files are often quite large; be careful to avoid exceeding the recipient’s mailbox limit or triggering the spam filter. You may need to upload large files to a shared folder where the reader can access the file with a link.
Give feedback or follow up: if you don’t get a response in 24 hours, email or call. Spam filters may have intercepted your message, so your recipient may never have received it.
Tip: add the address of the recipient last to avoid sending prematurely. This will give you time to do a last review of what you’ve written, make sure links work, make sure you’ve added the attachment, and so on, before adding the sender’s address and hitting send.
The sample email below demonstrates the principles listed above.
From: Bill Gates <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Human Resources Division <email@example.com>
Date: September 12, 2021
Subject: Safe Zone Training
Please consider signing up for the next available Safe Zone workshop offered by the company. As you know, our department is working toward increasing the number of Safe Zone volunteers in our area and I hope several of you may be available for the next workshop scheduled for Friday, October 9.
For more information on the Safe Zone program, please visit http://www.cocc.edu/multicultural/safe-zone-training/
Please let me know if you will attend.
Akhtar, A., & Ward, M. (2020, September 4). Fifteen email etiquette rules every professional should know. Business Insider. Retrieved September 10, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/email-etiquette-rules-every-professional-needs-to-know-2016-1
Anthony Weiner sexting scandals. (2011, June 2). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved September 10, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Weiner_sexting_scandals
Deadly distraction: Texting while driving should be banned. (2009, September 22). Chron. https://www.chron.com/opinion/editorials/article/Deadly-distraction-Texting-while-driving-should-1592397.php
Guffey, M. E. (2008). Essentials of business communication (7th ed.). Thomson/Wadsworth.
Raza, H. (2019, August 7). Why is email etiquette important! LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-email-etiquette-important-husnain-raza
The seven biggest social media fails of 2017. (2018, January 17). Entrepreneur. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/294925
Workopolis. (2018, March 7). Fourteen Canadians who were fired for social media posts. Workopolis Blog. https://careers.workopolis.com/advice/14-canadians-who-were-fired-for-social-media-posts/
This chapter was adapted from Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach by Rebekah Bennetch, Corey Owen, and Zachary Keesey, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
Bennetch, Owen, and Keesey adapted their chapter from “Technical Writing Essentials” by Suzan Last (on BCcampus). It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License,
etiquette for using the internet, or more specifically, communicating in online spaces. This includes (1) knowing your context, (2) remembering the human, (3) recognizing that text is permanent, (4) avoiding flaming, and (5) respecting privacy and original ideas
full name "memoranda," these are documents sent within an organization to pass along or request information, outline policies, present short reports, or propose ideas
the attitude of a communicator toward the message being delivered and/or the audience receiving the message
a program, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, that companies use to promote efficient communication across their workforce
an image file that is usually animated in some way
the receiver or receivers of a message
a brief message to recipients that are often outside the organization