Proper email etiquette is now part of the sales process, says Richard Heft, executive director of Ext. Marketing Inc. in Toronto. Anything written electronically is now permanent, so you have to be extra diligent when sending or publishing professional information online.

If you unintentionally offend someone during an in-person conversation, Heft says, you can explain yourself. But, if you send a message that’s misinterpreted, you can’t exactly strike it from the record.

Here are three steps you can take to help ensure your emails get your message across clearly and professionally:

1. Ask for permission
Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) makes it illegal to send many business-related electronic messages without express permission from the recipient. So, be careful about who is on the receiving end of your emails.

“Some people like to be communicated with by email and some people really don’t,” Heft says. “I would always ask for permission to avoid fines.”

Most people are aware of the new legislation, so you don’t want to bombard the wrong person with email messages. Beyond the legislation, it is just common courtesy to ask for consent.

2. Avoid sarcasm
A comment made in jest may be perceived as an insult and linger on your reader’s computer screen, says Andrew Broadhead, manager of communications at Ext. Marketing. More subtle forms of humour, such as sarcasm and playful language, can be difficult to convey and are more likely to be misinterpreted.

“When I’m joking [in person], you know I’m joking because my voice may rise an octave, but people can’t read that online,” Heft adds. Picking up nuance in email can be challenging — you may assume that your audience knows that you’re joking, but they could interpret your tone as serious.

3. Watch for typos
Your emails should always be polite, personalized and professional, Heft says. So, never underestimate the value of spell-check.

“It looks unprofessional to have a bunch of typos in an email — even via [smartphone],” Heft adds.

A recent trend among mobile users is to add a note at the end of an email that says, “Please excuse my typos.” But this sends the message to your audience that they’re not important enough to warrant a quick spell-check, Heft says.

Sending emails through mobile devices should follow the same rules as emailing from your desktop computer, Broadhead adds. Mobile technology isn’t an excuse for poor spelling, so take time to clean up your message.

Wait until your email is in perfect shape before adding your recipient’s email address. That way, there is less chance you will accidentally send the message before it is finished.

This article is part of an occasional series on etiquette.