20 Quick tips to improve your emails

file0001256259621 (Medium)In today’s world of instant messaging and email, it is very easy to send the wrong message, email the wrong person, and get mixed signals.  You can forget that every email that you send is a reflection of you.  Especially in the corporate world, you will be judged by the contents, language and style of your messages.  In addition, not everyone has time to thoroughly read every email they are sent.  We automatically prioritise our inbox based on our workload as well as our needs and as a result your really important email could be ignored / forgotten / replied to late.  With that in mind, I thought I’d put together some quick tips on improving the image your emails project as well as tips for improving the response.

  • Be polite and respectful.  Use the language appropriate for the recipient and not necessarily your usual style / phrasing and tone.  For example, what you might jokingly say over the phone or face to face, could be misinterpreted in an email.  When sending an email to a superior or a customer, let your language and tone reflect that.
  • It goes without saying that you should use good punctuation and grammar and of course, spell check.  If you can’t be bothered to take the time to spell check there is an implication of a lack of care and / or knowledge on your part.
  • 1208424_53926302 (Medium)Try to avoid slang, abbreviations and jargon, especially if the email is external
  • Avoid drama in your writing style.  Try to avoid ALL CAPS, and !!!!.  Use bold if absolutely necessary and avoid the use of multiple colours, styles and formats.
  • Get to the point, briefly.  Obviously if you are being asked to explain an occurrence, you will need to include the pertinent details, but no-one enjoys reading large emails, so avoid them where you can
  • Structure your email. For example:
    • Use a chronological order of events
    • Summarise the history (briefly), before calling for action
  • Know your audience.  Match their style and remember WIIFM (what’s in it for me – your correspondent).  If you want them to do something, put it in their language, in their style and outline the benefits to them
  • Tone of voice is difficult (if not impossible in some cases) to gauge in an email.  Try to refrain from using sarcasm and jokes for example, they could be misinterpreted and / or taken badly
  • Ensure the sender knows who you are and how to contact you:
    • business cardInclude your contact details in your signature
    • Introduce yourself briefly to those you’ve only met briefly, or those you’ve never met.  They may not remember you, even if you remember them
  • Adjust the subject line
    • Make the subject line match the message.  When replying or forwarding don’t hesitate to change it
    • Use action verbs when you need people to take action in the subject line. People are more likely to respond when they know a response is needed. For example, which subject line is better? “RE: Jason Orange” or “Referral letter required for Jason Orange”
  • When replying, respond in a timely fashion.  No-one expects an instantaneous response, but don’t make the contact wait unnecessarily.  Get the information you need to make a professional and thorough reply, or inform them you need to do some research and give them a date for when they can expect a full response
  • Avoid one liners.  Help to reduce these by putting “No response necessary” in the subject line for example
  • Do not BCC, unless you have a very large distribution list when knowing who else is copied is not important
  • Don’t over prioritise (think of the importance to the user as well as your own).  It might be of ultimate importance to you, but to your correspondent, it could just be routine.  In the same respect though, if you need a response by a certain time, with certain details, make it clear.
  • When sending attachments:mail_newcompose
    • Ask before sending large files, not all email servers can accept them (though this is improving).  However, not every one uses a computer to access their mail now and may need to make arrangements to view your attachment
    • Make sure the attachment has a logical name.  This helps to prevent them from getting lost and helps the recipient when storing
  • No chain letters / junk mail or virus warnings
  • Only discuss public matters by email and / or things that will not bite you later.  Remember that once it’s sent you cannot control who sees it.  Your corporate email account is not private and could be read by your manager, HR and / or the IT team.  Don’t discuss your private life using your corporate computer and email account.  Don’t even email work details you want to be kept private
  • Only copy people when absolutely necessary. Don’t just “reply all” indiscriminately   Instead think about who is in the list and don’t hesitate to remove people if it’s not appropriate or if you feel they are being spammed.  They will thank you for it later.
  • When adding someone new into the discussion, summarise the previous emails briefly (it’s a pain to read everyone’s response to understand the history).
  • To avoid being mistaken for spam:
    • Avoid all capitals
    • Avoid multiple exclamation points !!!!
    • Avoid all lower case
    • Avoid URLs

1307588_96012423Finally, an email is great, you can track history and who’s been included in the discussion, but:

  • Never email when you are angry.  You will regret it later.  Also try to avoid email hockey going backward and forward over the same point.  Keep it professional or pick up the phone
  • Also pick up the phone if the discussion becomes complicated, with too many parameters etc.  Organise a telephone / video conference instead
  • Read your email through before sending it.  You’ll be amazed at the errors you may find, and will get a better birds eye view of the message as a whole when you’re not concentrating on typing

And the best tip of all: Don’t use email as an way of avoiding personal contact.  When talking to someone face to face, non-verbal cues aid in the communication.  When on the telephone, the tone of voice used helps with interpreting the message. You have none of that in an email and so are already at a disadvantage.

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