How to Communicate effectively - Part (VI) Common mistakes in e-mail communication

In a short span of less than 10 years, e-mail has occupied a prime position among communication media. More and more people are adding e-mail addresses in their visiting cards and letter-heads everyday than anytime in the past. However, awareness about generally accepted standards and practices in e-mail communication is still inadequate.

Like every other communication medium - e-mail has its own norms and conventions. Failure to observe these norms and conventions may invite receiver's ire. Worse, the receiver may even mistake an inadvertent omission as bad behaviour or deliberate insult.

We receive on an average 2000 e-mails everyday. This is a unique experience to come across so many styles, manners, fashions and vocabulary. It also gives us an opportunity to find the most common mistakes, gaffe and error of judgment.


By far, the most prevalent mistake in e-mail communication is to use ALL CAPITAL letters. I guess the practice originated in telex days where communication used to be in upper-case only for better readability or limitation in keyboard. However, the world has gone so far ahead that such practice is construed as bad manners in e-mail communication today. Using capital letters in e-mail means SHOUTING - know what I mean ? So use capital letters only when you wish to SHOUT at the recipient !!

No Subject

Absence of subject reflects a carelessness or lack of attention. If you wish to inject seriousness in your communication - make sure your e-mail has a subject that is not only relevant but specific (no broad ambiguous words).

Uncontrolled line length

Some e-mails come in a single line - all of one page communication - without any break !! Imagine the discomfort of the reader. This happens if you and your recipient have different "wrap" settings, or in cut-paste operation. Keep your lines short (60 or so characters max), hit key at every line break.

Unwanted file attachment

In this age of countless e-mail viruses being carried through attachments - file attachments are generally looked upon with suspicion. Your attachment may be perfectly OK, free from any virus - but the receiver may not be so confident or willing to try. Moreover, file attachments make e-mails bulky and many users put a limit on maximum size of e-mails to be received. Bulky e-mails, in such cases, never reaches the recipient. It is a good practice to seek recipient's permission before sending file attachment.

Unnecessary Quote

Quoting sender's mail completely while responding (unless the mail is in response to the quote or there is a specific reason) is positively irritating. Some people even use Sent mailbox as address book - picking up any past mail to write to its sender. Every e-mail software provides address book which is not only fast and convenient - but extremely simple to use. A little investment in time and effort will result in a business address book that can save considerable time and make your business communication precise.

Stiff, formal language

Actual "tone" of your e-mail can make a difference in the responses you receive. A conversational, informal tone may get a response much more quickly than using stiff, formal language. Use short sentences in direct speech as much as possible.

Difficult Formatting

Long, unstructured text is difficult to read - more so on a computer screen. Use paragraphs to structure your message appropriately. Long paragraphs and run on sentences are inappropriate for e-mails. Breaking up your paragraphs simply makes them easier to read. Scrolling down a long paragraph can be a pain in the eyes ! Sheer boredom can make recipient just stop reading ! Keeping your message short and to the point guarantees they'll get your message, or at least they're more likely to attempt to read it! A page full of text can be daunting!

Use e-mail to build relationship and trust

E-mail is a powerful communications tool. Make sure your e-mail communications are well received and are actually read. The tone and content of your message should be able to inspire confidence in the recipient. Few checks and commitments on your part can go a long way in establishing your professional reputation and building positive image of your company.

Related Links:

Source: FAIDA - Newsletter on Business Opportunties from India and Abroad Vol: 3, Issue 6 May 15' 2002

Author : Dr. Amit K. Chatterjee
(Amit worked in blue-chip Indian and MNCs for 15 years in various capacities like Research and Information Analysis, Market Development, MIS, R&D Information Systems etc. before starting his e-commerce venture in 1997. The views expressed in this columns are of his own. He may be reached at )

� All Rights Reserved. Limited permission is granted to publish this article in a web-site or printed in a journal/ newspaper/ magazine provided the publisher takes prior permission from author, do not make any change in the article (i.e. keep it exactly same as displayed above) and cite the Source of this article as The Great Indian Bazaar with a link to this page.