10 Tips for Effective Email Every Professional Should Know
Email is the most common form of business communication, so it can have a big impact on your productivity and your reputation. Well-written emails that are clear, concise, and compelling can keep projects moving and enhance your relationships. However, when emails include typos, struggle to get to the point, or strike the wrong tone, they can do more harm than good.
Here are some tips to provide high-impact messages and avoid embarrassing mistakes.
- Choose an informative subject line
Choosing an engaging subject line that describes what your email is about increases the chances your email will be opened promptly. It also makes your email easy to find later. (Don’t forget to change the subject line when replying to an email if the topic of the email has changed.)
Don’t: Hi! Are you busy on Tuesday?
Do: Can we meet Tuesday at 3 pm about Project X?
- Be casual, but professional
Although email is more casual than most written correspondence, it should employ a respectful tone and include proper spelling and grammar. As a rule, it’s best to avoid emoticons, all-caps, acronyms, and exclamation points. And don’t be the boy who cried, “Wolf!” If an email is truly urgent, say so; otherwise, just be patient.
Don’t: Hey! Did you get my message? I TOTALLY need an answer ASAP about Project X.
Do: Just a quick reminder that the deadline for approval on Project X is this Friday. Have you had an opportunity to review the information I sent?
- Only use email when appropriate
–Do NOT discuss emotionally charged or controversial issues via email.
-Do NOT try to manage projects that require extensive discussion via email. Email is good for short, finite communication.
-Do NOT include confidential information. “Reply All” and “Forward” are many people’s favorite buttons, and hackers love a to add social security numbers or credit card numbers to their collections.
- Get right to the point
The subject line should cue up your message, and your first line in the body of the email should get right to the point–ideally in a compelling or humorous way. Tell your reader who you are (if they don’t already know), and what you want. If you expect them to take action, you’d best demonstrate how that action benefits them.
Don’t: I started my company ten years ago, and we’ve been growing ever since. I think you’d really like my product, but first, let me tell you about how we got where we are…
Do: After ten years in the business, we’ve honed our product to meet the needs of clients like you. Here’s how…
- Keep attachments small and essential
If you must attach a file, be sure it is not too big. People are wary of files, as they should be–they’re a great way to share computer viruses. If your attachment is more than a couple megabytes, consider sending it via a file transfer protocol (ftp) site like Hightail.com or Wetransfer.com; or consider setting up a file sharing arrangement like Dropbox.com.
- Use a signature line
I am always stunned when people do not provide contact information in their emails when it is so easy! You can set your email software to include your signature information automatically for each new email (or for all emails, including responses). List your name, title, company, website, and phone number. If you include a logo or image file of any kind, be aware that it may not display properly (if it displays at all).
This is the easiest way to avoid embarrassing mistakes. Read your email slowly at least a couple times. Look at each word individually before allowing your eyes to go to the next word; this allows you to read what you actually wrote (not what your brain thinks you wrote). Click here to see more proofreading tips.
- Read from the perspective of your arch enemy
Before you hit “Send,” read your email as though its recipient will interpret everything in the most negative light. This allows you to edit the message to prevent any misunderstandings. Since emails lack the benefits of body language and verbal tone, carefully choose your words and sentence structure so they leave little room misinterpretation.
- Have a friend or colleague read important emails
There’s nothing worse than finding a mistake after you hit “Send” on a company-wide email or an email to a prospective employer. If you’re writing a high-stakes email, ask a trusted friend or colleague to read it over for you.
- Consider implementing a company-wide email etiquette policy so everyone plays by the same rules
Time-saving protocols work well when everyone understands them. Consider implementing a company-wide policy with accepted abbreviations and protocols about when and how to use email. Include things like requiring out-of-office messages when people are away, so clients and colleagues know what to do in someone’s absence.
Remember, email is great, but it’s not the right tool for every type of communication. Before writing an email, be sure the message you want to convey is 1. Not emotionally charged, 2. Not easy to misinterpret 3. Doesn’t require an immediate response, and 4. Not attempting to manage a long-term, complex issue. If email is the right tool, follow these tips and you should enjoy the benefits of higher productivity and enhanced relationships.