Communicating through email happens more often than live conversations in many organizations. In our struggle to create brief emails, we often loose the meaning and impact of the original message.
But we can neither take the time to write a comprehensive email every time we send a message, nor does the recipient want to read a long email.
It is more difficult to create a clear and brief email than it is a long one. Often in our attempt to edit ruthlessly we cut out the important parts.
May I offer the following guideline for ALL email correspondence:
1. Please do not assume the reader is thinking of the same thing you are at the moment you are writing the message. Give the reader context. Example: I was reviewing your work on the Anderson proposal and wanted to provide this feedback….Or: Ruth and I have just finished meeting about the September program at the university…
2. Please use more than a one-word response. Often there are multiple questions in an email and offering a one word response will only confuse the recipient and most likely create the need for additional emails. Instead of: Yes. Try: Yes. I will attend the board meeting on Friday June 6th.
3. Please read emails thoroughly before answering. On the flip side of that – make your important information visible. How many times have you had to resend an email withs the same information because the recipient didn’t see it the first time? To help reduce the number of times this happens to you, make sure to highlight, underline, or otherwise make visible the key information.
4. Make your request clear. Please be clear if you are asking a question or if there is an action required of your reader. I picked up a great tip from a project manager that works beautifully for this concern. In your subject like include key words that will get your email opened and resolved. For example of you need someone to make a decision, begin your subject line with DECISION REQUIRED (other examples: ACTION REQUIRED; INFORMATION ONLY; DEADLINE 12noon TODAY).
5. Keep the emails brief. Somewhere around 50 words is ideal. If it needs to be more, create a summary statement at the top for those who like the executive summary version. Or, consider that this may require a phone call or in person exchange instead.
6. Do not ask a question in the subject and leave the body blank. Different email programs display things differently. If you have a short question, try texting or IM, or even pick up the phone.
7. Sign your emails with your full name and contact information. Your email address is not sufficient especially if it is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a short list, but one that has been compiled from years of advising and coaching professionals in communications of all forms.
Email is a wonderful tool if used wisely. It can also be a career limiting tool and in extreme cases a weapon. Let’s all try to be a bit more aware of how we use this tool and keep it in good condition.