The Etiquette Of Business Correspondence

You want to communicate, but which medium should you choose?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to reach out to another person properly, you put pen to paper. Today, the myriad outreach options would make Emily Post shudder. How is the well-mannered businessperson to correspond? Try these rules of thumb:

Computer-personalized letters: Instead of "Dear Sir or Madam" in mass-mailed letters, use PC-personalized letters to communicate to large audiences. Make sure spelling, titles and addresses are correct before you do your mail merge.

E-mail: For hard-to-reach people or for matters that don't require an immediate response, e-mail is the preferred method of communication. Keep in mind, though, that there are still people who don't check their e-mail regularly. When you do e-mail, avoid language nuances. Teasing and sarcasm tend to translate poorly-and sometimes offensively. And stay away from spamming--it can get you into hot water with recipients and, perhaps, the law.

Faxes: Legislation is tightening up on unsolicited broadcast faxes, so be certain you have the recipient's OK before you fax away. And don't fax sensitive information. You never know who will see a fax as it travels between the fax machine and the recipient's desk.

Online greeting cards: E-greetings can brighten someone's day, but they're really only appropriate in the most informal situations.

Handwritten notes: Essential for thank-yous, penned notes should be used to add a warm touch to situations where relationship-building is key.