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More Email Pointers

In a business writing seminar I led last week, I heard two good suggestions for email efficiency, along with one tale of caution:

Suggestion 1: When you have a thread of email and add a new person to it, explain to the others why you have added the new person. For example, if you add your manager to keep him or her informed, write:
I have copied Gail Phillips, my manager, on this email because she would like to be aware of our progress. Please copy her on your responses.

Suggestion 2: When you write to a large group, list people’s names on the Bcc (blind copy) line. That way, the list of names won’t take up the entire screen (or most of the page if readers print your message).

Tale of caution: Think twice, then think again about sending a blind copy to someone who should probably not receive the information. (If you feel a touch of guilt or doubt about the blind copy, don’t send it.) An attendee at last week’s writing class (I will call him Joel) reported that a friend used to copy him regularly on information he should not be reading. Then one day the friend forgot it was a blind copy and wrote, “Mary, please handle this action item. . . . Kaj, please take care of this. . . . Joel, this is FYI, as usual.” That is how everyone found out Joel was receiving the information. According to Joel, both he and his friend learned  a risky, embarrassing lesson.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “More Email Pointers”

  • Blind copying people, even for sensible reasons like confidentiality or saving space on an email, is fraught with danger. Again and again, I’ve seen people react very badly to BCC problems; either being included or excluded or seeing ‘private’ messages being copied to other people. My advice: don’t do it.

  • Your clear, emphatic advice makes me think again about Bccs. In our office I often Bcc Michael, my husband, so he will be able to respond knowledgeably when I am out of the office. Based on your strong words, I think I will just copy him, then mention the reason in the message if the recipient doesn’t know him. Thanks for commenting, Matthew.

  • Just want to make sure readers are clear that point 2 is valid when sending messages to large groups. In addition to the point made, you’ll also protect everyone’s email privacy and your database.

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