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Introduction

Introduction

E-mail is the most common, convenient—and potentially costly and cumbersome— means of business communications. From customer service representatives and sales managers to administrative professionals and CEOs, nearly everyone uses e-mail to communicate with customers and colleagues. North American business has experienced a 66% increase in workplace e-mail in recent years, with 1.4 trillion messages sent in 2001, up from 40 billion in 1995, according to the research firm International Data Corp.[1]

[1] Elizabeth Weinstein, “Help! I’m Drowning in E-Mail!” The Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2002. Article available online at www.epolicyinstitute.com.

With all that e-mail traffic, the potential for electronic disaster is huge if you are not careful to write messages that are as safe and secure as they are clean and clear. Among the workplace disasters e-mail can trigger:

Workplace lawsuits: Includes claims filed by employees and outside parties offended by inappropriate messages flowing in and out of your organization’s e-mail system. Also includes suits filed by employers against employees for criticizing, defaming, or harassing the organization online.

Lost productivity: Time spent writing, reading, and replying to messages—business-related or not—is productive time lost, never to be recaptured.

Mishandled leads, lost sales, and customer service disasters: A poorly worded, illogical, or inaccurate e-mail message can drive away customers and destroy sales. All business correspondence—electronic or hard copy— projects an image of you and your organization. In the battle for the reader’s on-screen attention, carefully written, thoughtfully worded e-mail free from inappropriate language and mechanical errors is sure to come out on top.

Financial losses: E-mail makes it easy for disenchanted employees, vengeful ex-employees, and thoughtless writers to steal proprietary data and send confidential company information to competitors. When leaked to the public, internal e-mail has been known to trigger a sharp decline in public-company stock prices.

Ruined reputations and other public relations nightmares: Written in haste and sent without consideration of the consequences, inappropriate e-mail can lead to workplace lawsuits, employee terminations, media scrutiny, and public embarrassment.

The first edition of Writing Effective E-Mail focused primarily on composing, presenting, and managing e-mail, but this newly revised edition takes on the more comprehensive task of helping the reader avoid e-mail liabilities while creating electronic documents that are as persuasively and powerfully written as they are risk-free.

To that end, we offer the following e-mail self-assessment to help you gauge your understanding of electronic risks, evaluate your e-mail writing skills, and recognize opportunities to approach electronic communication in a more strategic way.

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