6 Things All Effective Work Emails Have in Common
Streamline your professional email communication skills with these tips from the pros.
If you've ever received an email from a colleague with overly verbose directions, muddled requests, or way too many unnecessary recipients included, you know about the importance of effective email communication at work. Emails sent without organization or thought can actually obstruct workflow, generally annoy people, and cause otherwise avoidable miscommunication.
So how do you craft a clear, effective email that strikes the right balance between detailed and concise; one that hits on all the right topics for all the right people involved? First you need to know when something should be sent via email—as opposed to a direct message, in-personal meeting, or phone call. Emails are ideal for sending longer lists of instructions, checking in on a project, or sharing files. Email communication will also ensure a written record of any important conversations you'll need to refer to later. Here are six things all effective email writers do before they hit "send."
1. Maximize the Subject Line
First things first, you'll want to tailor the subject line to the message and/or your response. Are you writing to someone who emailed you last week? Don’t pull up an old, unrelated message and hit "reply"—it's your recipient's forgotten exactly what they wrote to you a week ago. Help orient them and compose a reply with a fresh subject line reflecting either the new topic or your response to their message (say, “Background information on our newest client, Jane Doe” or “Directions to our new house in Cleveland”), says Peggy Duncan, a personal-productivity expert in Atlanta. You’ll be less likely to confuse the recipient, and your message will be easier to find later on.
Second, be specific. For example, here's a bad/vague subject line: “Staff meeting.” Now, here's a better one: “Please bring this attachment to 2 p.m. staff meeting.” When you include particulars, like an action that is needed or the where-and-when details, you help the recipient instantly gauge your message’s importance, says Marsha Egan, the author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence ($20; amazon.com). It'll also help them remember to complete the task required.
Not sure what the subject should be? Think about the keywords you would use if you had to find the email later, says Nick Morgan, author of Can You Hear Me? How to Connect With People in a Virtual World ($11; amazon.com).
2. Provide Detailed Instructions
The clarity of written directions can make or break the effectiveness of a work email. If you're assigning respective tasks to a group of people, break them down by person and use bullet points to help everyone know exactly what you need help with from each them, specifically.
3. Choose the Recipients Carefully
Write the email before adding the recipients, says Vanessa Van Edwards, author of Captivate the Science of Succeeding With People ($12; amazon.com). This will not only prevent the dreaded accidental send, but also let you add recipients based on the content of the email. Want to avoid those lengthy multiperson email chains? If you need several people to comment on something, such as a document, consider creating a shareable file (like a Google Doc), where everyone can propose changes in one space without sending a thousand emails.
4. Cut Draining Language
Emailing about a snafu that needs fixing? Rather than waxing poetic about what a drag it is or whose fault it is, focus on the action needed to remedy an issue. For example, instead of saying, "The client has a problem with our presentation, and it's going to be difficult to fix," try, "I would love your help fixing something that the client brought up on our call." This will make giving negative feedback or requesting unpleasant tasks through email more effective.
5. Include Reply Instructions
Even when your email doesn’t require a response (“I’ll be at a doctor’s appointment for the next two hours” or “You can turn in your report tomorrow instead of today”), many people feel obligated to acknowledge it with an “OK” or “Thanks.” Give these people an easy out. “If you don’t want to hear back, include ‘No reply necessary’ at the end of your message,” says Duncan. “It saves time on both ends and stops useless emails from cluttering in-boxes.” Also, don’t hesitate to write “Thank you in advance” when you’re asking someone a question. It will stop you from feeling tempted to send a one-line “Thanks” when the person writes back.
6. Don’t Get Too Personal
“Emails are for facts, not feelings,” says Egan. Due to the lack of voice inflection and body language in digital correspondence, certain sentiments—how you feel about a coworker, what you thought of your neighbor’s party—can easily be misinterpreted. If you want to bring up a sensitive (or less than positive) issue, give them a call instead.
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