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Business correspondence
History could record e-mail as the greatest invention of the modern era for all the difference it might make to our lives. How much difference it will make remains to be seen, it is largely at the mercy of spam right now.

As the photo on the left suggests, correspondence in a previous era was carried out with formal letters sent through a typing pool. They contained all kinds of strained terminology: "Reference your esteemed communication of the 3rd inst." for example, or "I remain your humble and obedient servant." As if.

Modern communication is nowhere near as stilted. However, you should retain some degree of formality in e-mail with a new correspondent until the ice is broken, unwarranted familiarity can cause offence to some people. This can be a difficult point to remember as e-mail is by nature an informal medium, it's almost chatty the way you use it.

Some people adopt an abbreviated style almost like texting, and they don't bother about punctuation or spelling. While that's fine in your private correspondence, on lists it can annoy some people who find it hard to read or understand, and in a business context it could be seriously damaging to the image you wish to convey. Always capitalise letters that ought to be capitalised, in particular "I", and use full stops and commas where they belong.

E-mail is a notoriously easy medium for misunderstandings, it does not carry the inflections of voice that are so vital to conveying context. You might say something with a chuckle, but the same words printed on a screen are black and white and unemotional. Re-read what you have typed before you send it to see if there is any other possible interpretation of what you wrote. A judicous use of emoticons, or smilies, is highly recommended.

Explore your e-mail program, find out what it can do for you and make use of some of those features, especially to manage additional e-mail accounts and create folders for sorting and saving your e-mails. Make sure that you have a meaningful name in the "From" field - meaningful to people receiving your e-mail that is. Just having "John" or whatever is useless. Find out how to set up signature files as well, you can have several different ones and they can be very helpful to people receiving e-mail from you.

E-MAIL TIP 1 Create separate e-mail accounts for business and personal e-mails, if you change jobs you don't lose touch with all your friends! Only ever give your private e-mail address to close friends and family, and never let it appear on a web site or bulletin board where it might be picked up by spammers. See page on Anti-Spam Strategies.

E-MAIL TIP 2 Suppose you have e-mail going to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. sent on to your own e-mail account with btinternet.com or whoever. Many small businesses do that. However, edit the set-up to show the "Reply To" address as "This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." instead of "This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.". It looks so much more professional.

E-MAIL TIP 3 Find out how to create a "signature file" on your e-mail software. It is a piece of text automatically added to the end of every e-mail you type and send. Include your name and position, perhaps your company postal address and phone number, and a link to the company web site.

For Masonic use, create a separate signature file and put your Masonic rank and a list of all the lodges and orders of which you are a member, along with any web sites they may have.
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