Email is a widely used tool for business communications, but a 2013 survey by Sendmail, Inc., found that it has caused tension, confusion, or other negative consequences for 64 percent of working professionals.
So, how can you avoid your emails doing this? And how to write email that get the results you want? This article looks at strategies you can use to ensure that your use of email is clear, effective, and successful.
The average office worker receives around 80 emails each day. With that volume of mail, individual messages can easily get overlooked. Follow these simple rules to get your emails noticed and acted upon.
- Don’t over communicate by email.
- Make good use of subject lines.
- Keep messages clear and brief.
- Be polite.
- Check your tone.
1. Don’t Over communicate by Email
One of the biggest sources of stress at work is the sheer volume of emails that people receive. So, before you begin writing an email, ask yourself: “Is this really necessary?”
As part of this, you should use the phone or IM to deal with questions that are likely to need some back-and-forth discussion. Use our Communications Planning Tool to identify the channels that are best for different types of message.
Also, email is not as secure as you might want it to be, particularly as people may forward emails without thinking to delete the conversation history. So avoid sharing sensitive or personal information in an email, and don’t write about anything that you, or the subject of your email, wouldn’t like to see plastered on a billboard by your office.
Whenever possible, deliver bad news in person. This helps you to communicate with empathy, compassion, and understanding, and to make amends if your message has been taken the wrong way.
2. Make Good Use of Subject Lines
A newspaper headline has two functions: it grabs your attention, and it summarizes the article, so that you can decide whether to read it or not. The subject line of your email message should do the same thing.
A blank subject line is more likely to be overlooked or rejected as “spam,” so always use a few well-chosen words to tell the recipient what the email is about.
You may want to include the date in the subject line if your message is one of a regular series of emails, such as a weekly project report. For a message that needs a response, you might also want to include a call to action, such as “Please reply by November 7.”
A well-written subject line delivers the most important information, without the recipient even having to open the email. This serves as a prompt that reminds recipients about your meeting every time they glance at their inbox.
3. Keep Messages Clear and Brief
Emails, like traditional business letters, need to be clear and concise. Keep your sentences short and to the point. The body of the email should be direct and informative, and it should contain all pertinent information. See our article on writing skills for guidance on communicating clearly in writing.
Unlike traditional letters, however, it costs no more to send several emails than it does to send just one. So, if you need to communicate with someone about a number of different topics, consider writing a separate email for each one. This makes your message clearer, and it allows your correspondent to reply to one topic at a time.
It’s important to find balance here. You don’t want to bombard someone with emails, and it makes sense to combine several, related, points into one email. When this happens, keep things simple with numbered paragraphs or bullet points, and consider “chunking”information into small, well-organized units to make it easier to digest. If you make it easy for people to see what you want, there’s a better chance that they will give you this.
4. Be Polite
People often think that emails can be less formal than traditional letters. But the messages you send are a reflection of your own professionalism, values, and attention to detail, so a certain level of formality is needed.
Unless you’re on good terms with someone, avoid informal language, slang, jargon, and inappropriate abbreviations. Emoticons can be useful for clarifying your intent, but it’s best to use them only with people you know well.
Close your message with “Regards,” “Yours sincerely,” or “All the best,” depending on the situation.
Recipients may decide to print emails and share them with others, so always be polite.
5. Check the Tone
When we meet people face-to-face, we use the other person’s body language, vocal tone, and facial expressions to assess how they feel. Email robs us of this information, and this means that we can’t tell when people have misunderstood our messages.
Your choice of words, sentence length, punctuation, and capitalization can easily be misinterpreted without visual and auditory cues. Think about how your email “feels” emotionally. If your intentions or emotions could be misunderstood, find a less ambiguous way to phrase your words.
Finally, before you hit “send,” take a moment to review your email for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Your email messages are as much a part of your professional image as the clothes you wear, so it looks bad to send out a message that contains typos.
As you proofread, pay careful attention to the length of your email. People are more likely to read short, concise emails than long, rambling ones, so make sure that your emails are as short as possible, without excluding necessary information.
Most of us spend a significant portion of our day reading and composing emails. But the messages we send can be confusing to others.
To write effective emails, first ask yourself if you should be using email at all. Sometimes, it might be better to pick up the phone.
Make your emails concise and to the point. Only send them to the people who really need to see them, and be clear about what you would like the recipient to do next.
Remember that your emails are a reflection of your professionalism, values, and attention to detail. Try to imagine how others might interpret the tone of your message. Be polite, and always proofread what you have written before you click “send.”