Writing Email
Illustration by Neil Webb

Writing Email

with Judy Steiner-Williams
lynda.com's PMI® Program
This course qualifies for 1.00 PDUs towards maintaining PMI® certification. Learn More

Video: Respecting confidentiality

If you wouldn't want to see your message posted on the company

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Watch the Online Video Course Writing Email
1h 13m Appropriate for all Apr 01, 2014

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Discover the secrets to writing powerful emails your colleagues will read and answer by crafting your message and delivery. In this short course, author and business writing professor Judy Steiner-Williams shows you how to write emails for maximum readability and impact. Discover how to craft a compelling opening, how to message the right people at the right time, and how to leverage etiquette to use email as one of many communications tools.

This course qualifies for 1 Category A professional development unit (PDU) through lynda.com, PMI Registered Education Provider #4101.

Topics include:
  • Using email as a communication tool
  • Understanding the right time and the right tone to strike
  • Crafting strong subject lines and messages
  • Respecting confidentiality
  • Copying and bcc'ing
  • Including attachments

  • The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
Judy Steiner-Williams

Respecting confidentiality

If you wouldn't want to see your message posted on the company bulletin board, or on someone's Facebook account, then don't send it by email. Hackers can, of course, get access to those personal, private messages, but neither should email sent through employers equipment have any general expectation of privacy. Employers can, and do, monitor all communications through their equipment. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act and the Stored Wire Electronic Communication Act are commonly referred together as the Electronic Communication Privacy Act.

This act was updated because of the onset of computer and other digital and electronic communication. Always be aware that an email message can be monitored secretly, is stored permanently, can be forwarded without permission, and can be edited to change the meaning. Let's analyze these privacy or confidentiality issues. The first, is an employer allowed to see what is on a computer terminal while the employee is working? Generally, yes. The employer owns the computer network and the terminals, which means that he or she can monitor them.

Even though some companies do let their employees know that their electronic communication is monitored, it can be done legally without the employee's knowledge. Employees should send messages assuming that they are being monitored. Do employers monitor your emails just because they like to snoop? No, they have valid reasons for monitoring their employee's email use. One of those reasons is because of legal liability. For example, employees who might see offensive, graphic material on a colleague's computer screen may charge a hostile work environment.

Another reason is to track productivity. Net surfing or any personal use of office email costs the company money in that loss productivity time. Also, protecting the security of corporate information is a primary concern in this electronic age. The second confidentiality issue to consider is, when those email messages are deleted from your terminal, are they still in the system? Yes. Those messages are retained in memory even after they have been deleted. Although, it may appear they are gone.

They're often permanently backed up on magnetic tape. Company and government legal cases that make the news usually identify emails that have been recovered. Another confidentiality question is, can private messages be forwarded without permission? Of course. Does including a disclaimer make the message confidential? Most company emails end with a disclaimer such as, this email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed.

Or, this message contains confidential information and is intended only for the individual named. But even with these statements, being sure your email remains confidential is impossible. The last confidentiality question is, could or would someone change the wording of my message? Unfortunately, both could and would, this is usually done if someone is trying to make someone else look bad. For example, the message you sent to a couple team members said, Carole recently analyzed that our company's employees provide 60 hours of volunteer service each month.

Carole said, our employees are working hard and should be acknowledged for their efforts and for motivating others to participate. Carole is now in your office asking why you sent a message criticizing her to other team members. One of whom forwarded it to the supervisor. She then shows you the following message. Carole recently analyzed that our company's employees provide 60 hours of volunteer service each month. Carole said that our employees are not working hard enough and that she should be acknowledged for those efforts and for motivating others to participate. How easy to add only three little words, not, that, and she.

And completely change the meaning. One thing you can do to prove that the message has been altered is to send a copy to yourself. So, how can you guarantee that your email messages are private and confidential? You can't. So, be cautious when choosing what information to send by email.

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