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The Perils of Poorly Written E-Mail

Poorly written e-mail can sabotage careers, threaten productivity, and negatively affect a company’s image, while effective e-mail increases productivity and improves the workplace environment. It is an important skill that helps people advance their careers and keeps businesses competitive.

E-mail has become the primary method of business communication, surpassing the telephone as our preferred communication tool in the workplace (Datamonitor report, September 2007). While most people already sense that this is the case, we often don’t stop to consider the implications for our careers. It’s time for employers and employees to face the reality that e-mail writing skills could make or break a career. While most of us understand that poorly written e-mail can waste time, we forget that poorly written e-mail can also create costly misunderstandings, catapult deadlines, delay deliverables, impact people’s opinion of you, and sabotage your career.

Employers should also take note: A Write It Well survey found that more than half of American workers spend a third of their day reading and responding to e-mail and nearly 75 percent said that they could make better use of that time.  Wasted time affects a company’s overall productivity and financial statements and in today’s increasingly global economy, companies rely on e-mail to allow large teams across various time zones to work together efficiently on projects. When extreme time differences are combined with various languages, poorly written e-mail can be detrimental to a project’s results and deteriorate team dynamics, both of which directly affect a company’s bottom line. Poorly written e-mail can also affect a company’s public image. In a recent Write It Well survey, a whopping eighty-eight percent of respondents said that badly written e-mail leaves a poor impression of not only the writer, but the writer’s organization as well.

In addition to image, productivity and financial problems, poorly written e-mail can have serious legal implications. IT security and control firm, Sophos, recently found that seventy percent of businesses are concerned about data leakage via e-mail, and fifty percent of employees have sent e-mail with sensitive information to the wrong person causing corporate embarrassment, compliance breaches, and the loss of business-critical information. Whether by accident or because they didn’t think carefully, people send inappropriate and damaging e-mail everyday.  “In high stakes business litigation, the first place I look for smoking gun evidence that may win (or lose) the case is the e-mail server,” said Jonathan W. Hughes, a director of the San Francisco law firm Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin. 

Even with so much at stake, more professionals are entering the workforce without the ability to express themselves clearly in writing. According to The National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges, schools and colleges today neglect writing and, as a result, many college graduates enter the workforce with poor writing skills. Yet, writing is a fundamental business skill. In fact, a recent survey by the Commission found that half of all companies assess writing skills during the hiring process and when making promotion decisions.

The solution is for companies to invest in business writing skills – and specifically, e-mail writing. E-mail writing is a specific skill that needs to be learned explains Terk. Our book, E-Mail – A Write It Well Guide, is a training tool designed to improve the reader’s e-mail writing skills in a very practical way. With a six-step writing plan and a focus on job relevance, readers are rewarded with immediate results. Designed for use by individuals, teams, or as part of classroom training, E-Mail – A Write It Well Guide is cost-effective and flexible.  A facilitator guide allows trainers, managers, and team leaders to lead their own e-mail workshop, and customized training programs are also available.  

Natasha Terk is President of Write It Well, a training and consulting company that helps people in the workplace communicate clearly and work together effectively. Write It Well offers step-by-step techniques to improve business writing through onsite and online training courses, as well as business writing books with companion facilitator guides. E-Mail – A Write It Well Guide, ISBN 978-0-9637455-9-0, is now available at and bookstores nation-wide for $21.99.  Visit for more information about Write It Well’s books, on-site training, and facilitator guides.