I was leading a business writing program yesterday, when someone asked me to cover instant messaging (IM). Of course, I said the principles we were discussing in class applied to all types of business writing.
Yet IM at work is a unique form of communication–instant and fleeting like nothing else. What makes it efficient?
As someone who rarely uses IM at work, I will offer a few common-sense ideas. But then it's your turn–please. If you use IM efficiently on the job, will you please add your wisdom?
Here are my suggestions:
- Greet the other person briefly at the start of the IM conversation. Don't do the equivalent of barging in with a business question without saying hello. Be courteous.
- Wait for a response to each of your comments before adding more. Otherwise, you won't be sure which comment the other person is addressing.
- Do your best to use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Mistakes will happen, of course, but don't make them knowingly. They get in the way of quick understanding.
- Use the word "we" cautiously or avoid it. It may refer to you and your team, or you and the other person. Instead write "our team" or "you and I."
- Avoid passive verbs such as "should be downloaded." Passives don't make it clear who should do the action. Instead use "Download," "I have downloaded," or "Your IT administrator will download."
- In IM exchanges with customers, when you use boilerplate text (for example, to respond to common customer questions), edit the boilerplate so it suits the situation. For example, if you have just told the customer "I will be glad to help," cut the "I will be glad to help" statement from the next boilerplate response. Otherwise, it will be obvious that you are pasting in rote responses.
- As with other business messages, avoid humor unless you are certain the other person will understand and enjoy it.
- Avoid sarcasm. People cannot distinguish between seriousness and sarcasm in those plain, flat words on the screen.
- End the conversation with an official sign-off, for example: "I am signing off now." That way, the other person will know that you believe the exchange is complete, and you won't have a bunch of empty chatter winding down the conversation. But wait a few moments to see whether the other person acknowledges your sign-off or instead says, "Wait–there's more!"
Do you agree with my suggestions? What have I missed? What makes instant messaging efficient for you?