Writing Style – Why the Rules for Letters Don’t Apply to Emails

We are all familiar with letters. They are a traditional form of communications. However, emails are recently new to the business scene and require their own email-centric form of writing and organizing.

Why? Emails were never designed to be a formal method of communication.

When emails came into being in the early 90s, they were conceived to be a quick form of communication. You ask. I answer. They were not designed to replace formal letters but to provide a speedy response to a quick off-the-cuff question. They have since become an accepted way of communicating on all levels of the business world. But the writing style has never been elevated to a formal, pompous one.

Note, an informal style does not equate to sloppy. Sloppy emails will not get you anywhere. When I talk about an informal style, I mean short sentences, short paragraphs, bulleted lists, active voice sentences and personal pronouns. Abbreviations and acronyms – as long as the reader understands them – are permissible. Spelling and grammar errors are not.

The word “Dear” is traditional in a letter. Not to use it, would be considered discourteous. However, never use it in a North American email. It is considered outdated and overly formal – not reflective of the U.S. and Canadian business cultures.

But an email should start with a greeting – just as if you were meeting the person for the first time that day. You can be specific and start with the person’s name – first name only if you are friendly, both names if you want to be more formal – or be more generic and start with “hello,” “hi,” “good day,” or something similar.