A recent client needed me to prepare several emails for him while making some important negotiations. He jotted notes, I found links to important documents and created the finished email.
I was surprised at how abrupt, and often unclear, the other participants in the email exchanges could be. Often their replies required further questions to clarify meaning.
Email, like texting, has developed into a near shorthand form of communication. But there are still rules of etiquette and form to follow if you want your words to be taken seriously. Here are a few thoughts:
- Know your audience. Tossing a quick response to a co-worker needing a one-word answer to an immediate question is different from answering questions from your CEO about a report you submit. Consider whether your email needs to be fast and informal, or more serious. Also think about how many people are involved. If several people will see you email, add a little extra information in its body so every reader will know what you are discussing. I’ve had the frustrating experience of trying to go back in a “reply stream” to find the actual subject of the email that was copied to me.
- Be concise but complete. Decide what you want to say. Jot it down, and if it is anything more than a sentence or two response to a quick question, re-read your words. Do they make sense? Is there anything that repeats that you can remove? While brevity is a virtue, if your email is so brief it leaves details out, you will only cause extra work as your recipients sends an email to ask bout your email.
- Use formatting to your advantage. Bullet points are your friend. Reading paragraph after paragraph is hard on someone who may receive hundreds of emails a day. Break your topic down into headings, and add bullet points to make it easy to see each point. If something is a must-see, use bold, italics, or even larger font–but only sparingly. Overusing these tools frankly looks silly.
- Limit your subject matter. I’ve seen articles on emails that say to limit each email to one subject. In theory, this is a good idea, but if you will end up sending five or more emails, consider consolidating them. To decide whether to go single or in a group with your subjects, consider these points:
- Use one subject per email. . .
- . . .if the email is likely to be reused (forwarded or printed for a third person’s use), stick to one subject per email.
- . . .f each subject is wildly different (vacation times, points for an upcoming meeting, and travel expense notes), use a different email for each subject.
- Go ahead and consolidate if. . .
- . . .the subjects are related in some way. For example, if you are discussing a vacation, and have information on dining, hotel, and airfare, go ahead and keep the subjects together, unless the individual parts need to be handed off to different people for preparations.
- . . .you are using your email like a meeting. I have clients that I sometimes update on several projects at once. Since the email is information that is not likely to be forwarded, and “my progress” is the subject of the email, I go ahead and list each progress report as a bullet point in one email, even if the projects are wildly different. The same principle would apply to a “catch-up” email to a friend.
- Use one subject per email. . .
Email is something we all use. Making sure you are clear, concise, and choose formatting and what to include based on how the recipient will use the email will help you in your business and personal communications.