It may be a “140-character world” thanks to Twitter, but email communication still requires some standard business etiquette. Email remains the No. 1 application in use on the Internet and is still the primary way businesses communicate electronically with one another and with customers.

Recently, the following message showed up in my inbox (names have been changed to prevent embarrassment):

Subject: Black Creek Builders

Sender: [email protected]

Date: Sept 12, 2013

I am trying to figure out if chief architect can export file to mitek shappire (.mxf) for there program to work with bmc truss soffitware.

No doubt this sender used the messaging application on his phone to dash this off as if I was a regular acquaintance, but this was the first I’d ever heard of or from this person.

In case you’re wondering, I did respond and answer his question (along with some timely advice about email etiquette), but I’m betting a different recipient would simply have hit the “delete” key.

  • Subject line: In this email, the subject line was most likely auto-filled by the device sending the message. It’s better than nothing (a blank subject is a sure way to get your emails nuked by a spam/malware filter), but it had nothing to do with the question being asked. Instead, “Reader Question Regarding Chief Architect—MiTek Export” would have let me mentally prepare before opening the message.
  • Sender: I also use a generic email address (Yahoo), but for any business correspondence I always include my business domain address. [email protected], in combination with a better subject line, would have conveyed a lot of information about the sender.
  • Salutation and introduction: Business correspondence demands a salutation, and a quick line of introduction, like this: “Mr Stoddard: My name is John Doe. I’m an estimator at a small-volume builder in City, State. I read your recent article on CAD, and have a favor to ask. I am trying to determine if Chief Architect …” When corresponding with your clients, this shows a basic level of professionalism and respect.
  • Message body: The quality of your writing reflects directly on you and your company. Your first goal is to have your message delivered. That won’t happen if it gets spam-filtered. It’s inexcusable to send business correspondence that contains misspellings, especially of proper names (it’s Sapphire not shappire), bad grammar, and incorrect usage. Names are always capitalized. Sentences always start with a capital letter and end with a punctuation mark. Learn the differences between you’re/your, they’re/their/there, are/our, and its/it’s. And if you don’t know, have someone who does know check your work.
  • Steps already taken: Before asking for help, describe what you have done. Most people don’t want to wade through a long-winded tome, but they do want to know that you have invested at least a little of your own effort in trying to solve the problem. When it comes to your clients, be clear about the efforts you’ve made to resolve an issue.
  • Closing and signature lines: Business correspondence ends with a “closing” such as “sincerely,” “yours truly,” “best regards,” followed by your name and contact information. It’s another common courtesy—and generally good business practice so folks know how to reach you—to provide your recipient with complete contact information: full name, company name and address, work, mobile, and fax phone numbers (including any extensions), website URL, and your business email address (in case it’s not the same as the “From” address). Most any email software has a “signature” feature that will include all this information automatically.

Even in a 140-character world it’s still like Grandma said: “Please” and “Thank-you” go a long way. Joe Stoddard consults with contractors on technology. [email protected],