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Tips for e-mail Writing

e-mail writing is probably the next most popular communications method after verbal communication. e-mails used to be a substitute for the formal business letter typed (often by a secretary) and mailed. The fact that the letter had to be dictated led to more thought going into the communication. The fact that a 3rd party (the secretary) reviewed the communication before typing it led to further improvement. For those of us without access to secretaries, there were numerous short courses on business letter writing. This all led to well written business letters.

With the advent of e-mail, the conventions that disciplined our business letter writing have been lost and the e-mails that replace the business letter lack the structure, syntax, and grammar of the letter. This probably wouldn't be a great strain on the reading public were it not for the fact that many of us receive 100 or more e-mails in our inbox every day! Without some discipline here we're soon going to be forced to either read bad e-mails 20 hours a day, or ignore all but the most important, and how do we tell which ones are important? To help you contribute to the solution to this problem, I've constructed the following tips for writing good e-mails.

  1. Only address one subject in an e-mail. If you want to cover several topics with the same addressee, use several e-mails. If you must use one e-mail use a numbered list to identify your subjects and keep each list item brief.
  2. Don't use capitals, bolded text, multiple exclamation points, etc. to impress a point upon your reader. These add length to the e-mail and make it look sloppy.
  3. Make your point in the first sentence of the e-mail. If the point cannot be made in one sentence, make it in the first paragraph. You can include details, supporting information, etc. in the rest of your e-mail.
  4. Use the subject line to capture important details about the e-mail. You may be able to include all the critical information in the subject line and let your reader avoid having to open the mail! For example, let's say you are sending out a meeting invitation to your Gate 3 meeting, instead of putting something like "Gate 3 Meeting" in the subject line, try putting "Gate 3 Mtg Jun 3rd 10:00 am Palmer Room".
  5. Address your e-mails intelligently, especially when replying to an e-mail. If your reply will only be acted upon by the original sender use the "Reply" button.
  6. Use the "To:" list to include those who you want to act on your e-mail. Use the "CC:" list to copy those that you think might be interested in the information in your e-mail, but be stingy with your "CCs" and avoid copying someone simply because you copied a peer and don't want to hurt their feelings by leaving them out. Leaving them off the list is less likely to hurt their feelings than reading an e-mail that does not interest them.
  7. Do not send or respond to "flaming e-mails". If you get hot under the collar, wait until you cool down before sending the e-mail. If you receive one, don't respond by e-mail, walk down the hall and converse with the sender verbally.
  8. Don't load your e-mail with acronyms. If you have to use acronyms then provide a glossary at the end of your e-mail.
  9. Provide a telephone number and extension with your signature, especially when asking for a verbal response. Most e-mail tools provide you with the capability of creating a signature so you can avoid typing the information in each time. Provide an address with your signature if your e-mail is being sent to an external recipient.
  10. Try having someone known for their writing skills review important e-mails for grammar and structure.
  11. Use your "Out of office" tool whenever you are away for more than 1 day. Direct those that e-mail you to the appropriate substitute for action and notify them of the date of your return.

 

Follow these simple tips and you will make everyone who reads your e-mails life a little brighter. You will also notice that as your e-mails get more succinct, your audience will tend to be a little better informed because they read them!