Business Writing Essentials

Message Form

If you think it's safe to impress people with clever formatting inside your email Message, have at it: HTML the heck out of it. But if the purpose of your email is to inform, alert, or persuade, and you know you need to come across as serious and professional, you need to type your Message in a common-sense, standard form.


A few guidelines go a long way. Give the reader:
• Short paragraphs.
• Space between paragraphs.
• Separate paragraphs for separate topics.
• Key points at the beginning of each paragraph.


Punctuation was created to mark separate thoughts and to guide the reading of bad handwriting. With text on computer screens, proper punctuation is not as necessary as it used to be. However, you should play it safe and adjust your punctuation to your situation.

Always use proper punctuation when:

• The recipient is senior to you.

• You are replying to an important email that was written with correct punctuation.

• Meaning could be drastically altered:

No  Thanks to you  X happened.

No. Thanks to you, X happened.

Relax about proper punctuation when:

• The recipient is a friend and the topic is casual.

• You are both texting using email.


For important emails, spelling and grammar should be as in a formal letter: correct.

And anyone who writes an email like this:

hi - i heard u r done - plz send it ok? regds

is also saying, "you are not worth the effort for me to be professional and type using standard conventions."


How often do you see strange characters in the text of an email? They look like foreign symbols or typing mistakes your email program is having trouble deciphering.

The solution is simple (yes, boring, but simple): play it safe and stick to the standard keyboard characters, i.e., the characters common to all keyboards used in your country.


Thinking of using a different font because it's cool looking? Take a deep breath and restrain yourself.

You need to remember: what you type is not always what your readers will see. Their email program and their operating system might not have that cool font.

Also, keep in mind that operating systems in mobile devices often convert all fonts anyway, with the only real choice being serif or sans-serif.

Play it safe: in email at work, use standard fonts resident in all major operating systems, such as sans-serif fonts Arial or Verdana and serif fonts Times or Georgia.


Here we're talking about italic, bold, underline, and color. Use this kind of emphasis sparingly. When you emphasize too much, you emphasize nothing. And few readers enjoy reading text full of flashing neon signs.

Guidelines for not going overboard with font emphasis:

• Large sections of text in italics are known to reduce reading speed.

• Underlines can be garish and bring to mind your ancestors' manual typewriters.

• Using a variety of colors for text is appropriate if you are advertising for the circus. If you're writing an email at work, try to only use color to help readers navigate through a long email, maybe to highlight headings.

A safe way to emphasize words is to surround them with *asterisks*. The asterisk is a standard character on all keyboards. ALL CAPS is another option, but use it sparingly; no one likes to be screamed at.

Lesson: Message Form
Module: Email
Course: Business Writing Essentials