Effective email writing is a skill that is often overlooked in today’s fast-paced business environment. I’m sure you’ve received your share of long, rambling email communications. Unfortunately, we’ve all probably been guilty of sending such emails in the past.
The fact is, email is a critical communication methodology. As such, you need to be crafting emails in a manner that is efficient, so as not to waste your own time, and effective – likely to produce a response from your recipient. Whether you are writing an email to someone you’ve had little (or no) contact with or sending an email to your colleague or subordinate, these email writing tips should help you get to the desired outcome.
Rifle Not Shotgun. Your reader wants to know what the point of your communication is. Don’t be vague or ambiguous when crafting an email. Avoid asking broad questions (“what are your thoughts?” for example). Instead, zero in on the specific points you wish to make or inquire on and strive for brevity. Additionally, try to avoid rambling introductions or off-topic explanations. After writing your email, comb through the draft and trim out words (or sentences or even full paragraphs) that do not directly contribute to clear communication
Use the Subject Line. The subject line may be the most under utilized component of most emails. How many times have you received (or sent) emails with a subject line that provides no substantive information (“see below,” “for your review,” “your thoughts?” etc.)? By crafting a subject line that sets forth substantive clues to the topic of the email, you assist your reader and make it more likely that she will read your communication. If I were sending this link to someone, for example, rather than simply titling the email “thought you might find this of interest” I might write a subject line that says “Great article on crafting emails – see attached link.” My recipient now knows immediately what the purpose of my communication is.
No Novels Please. With certain exceptions, emails should be succinct and brief in nature. Long emails generally send a message that you do not respect and appreciate that your reader’s time is valuable. If you’ve followed the first two tips, you are already on track in this regard. Even so, it’s worth emphasizing how important it is to keep your emails to a manageable size. Many of us (myself included) have a tendency to wax verbose. Remember that an email is not a conversation – it’s a specific communication designed to elicit a response (see Tip 6, below). If you have difficulty editing your emails, try writing your communication first as an SMS text or a Tweet (if you use twitter). Once you’ve done this, you can rewrite it in an email. Because these media have a inherent constraints, you will be forced to employ brevity in your initial drafts.
Make No Assumptions. Don’t assume that your reader has all the knowledge required to understand your email or answer your questions. If your email presupposes a set of decisions that have been taken previously “behind the scenes,” be certain that your reader is aware of them. For example, if I send you an email soliciting your feedback on Blog redesign, but you haven’t been involved in the redesign process and I don’t provide you with the samples I’m asking you about, you’ll be unlikely to answer my email (or at least unlikely to respond with any efficiency). Of course, providing these background details can take up a great deal of space. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but you should still try to stick to the facts and aggressively edit your descriptions.
Save the Suspense. You’re not writing a mystery novel or television thriller. Do your reader the courtesy of getting to the point quickly. If you’ve used your subject line appropriately and tried to keep the email brief, you are probably fine on this point. An easy way to tell is to look at your subject line and the first sentence of your email. Can any reader determine what you are writing about without reading any further? If not, you need to focus some energy on rewriting those two components before sending out your email.
What Do You Want? If you find yourself struggling with these strategies, or your emails are still not getting read or responded to, you may need to ask yourself “why am I writing this email?” Every time you send an email to someone, you should know what you want to achieve by the communication. Are you providing needed information? Asking a question that you need answered? Calling for some action or other response from your reader? Have the answer to the question “What do I want?” before you sit down to write your email.
Avoid Jargon and Excess Formality. This one is difficult. In general, you should write as you speak. If your writing is loaded with technical lingo, it will be difficult for a layperson to understand. Also, if you teeter over the edge of formality, your email will sound like a legal document. Neither is desirable. Try to inject your own voice into the email by being authentic and writing in a conversational style. Unfortunately, there are times where jargon is unavoidable – particularly if you need to be communicating as an “insider.” If you are writing to mortgage derivative traders, it’s likely that you will need to sprinkle the proper acronyms and terminology in your email. The best advice here is to know your audience. If it’s comprised of experts, jargon may be appropriate – otherwise keep it simple and relaxed.
Closing Your Email. Give some thought to your valediction. Once again, it’s important to consider your audience. If it’s a close colleague, you can be a bit more informal. If it’s someone with whom you’ve had little or no contact, it’s best to stick with an accepted format, such as “Sincerely yours.” Additionally, think about creating a signature file for use in your emails. This may be the second most under used area of email. You should be certain to include your return email address and any other contact information you feel is appropriate, as well as functional URL links to your website, blog, products, portfolio, etc.