I get 120 emails a day. Sometimes more.
Some are one-liners, which require a simple answer. Others are more detailed and require some thought and analysis before answering, while the last group can be very lengthy emails that ramble from one item to the next and to the next and…Time counts in business. Finding ways to streamline or automate your daily tasks lets you focus on more pressing matters.
In the following tutorial, I’d like to offer some tips on how to write more effective emails and also—what you may find more interesting—how to respond to them so that you receive less emails and those you do receive from your colleagues become more structured. Needless to say, these suggestions are aimed at business people and not your daily chit-chat with friends.
How To Start Your Email
Depending on the type of email you’re writing:
if it’s the first time you’re writing to someone, introduce yourself and state the nature of your business. Use simple everyday English, but stick to the point. Don’t apologize or ingratiate yourself for writing an email if it has a business purpose. Also don’t ramble or try to become ‘best buddies’ with this person.
if you’re replying to a response they’ve made, thank them for making the effort. A simple acknowledgement is always appreciated.
How to State your objectives
Every email has a goal. Many emails are requests. They’re asking the reader to do something. Attend a meeting, write a report, provide feedback, submit documentation and so on.
You can make life easier for the reader by highlighting what you’re expecting them to do.
Use headings to state your objectivesInstead of writing long convoluted slabs of text, divide your material into short paragraphs each with its own heading. Not only with this help the reader grasp the key points, it will also help to revise your own emails.
Write short 3-5 words headings.
Use simple English.
Avoid puns, wordplay or jargon.
Explain your objectives in detailUnderneath each heading outline what needs to be achieved. When dealing with complicated matters, clarify for the reader who’s responsible for which task.
Ensure that the reader understands what’s being asked of them. Again, use a civil tone.
List tasks and goals – In detailed correspondence, you can further clarify matters by listing the items that need most attention. If necessary, list them in order of priority. By doing this the reader can scan the email – most of us don’t read word by word – and zoom in on the key points. Using lists is a great way to highlight and prioritize requirements.Tip: If you take the effort to do this, the reader will eventually start to copy this structured writing style. Most people haven’t been trained to write. But they know good writing when they see it – it feels right – and will start to imitate it. In the long run, you’ll receive shorter, more accurate communications. And if you’re working in a team, almost by osmosis, you’re productivity will improve.
Set expectations and provide timelines – This is where most people fall down. After taking the effort to introduce the subject, highlight the main issues, list them by priority, they overlook one critical step.Tell the reader why they need to respond.
Tell the reader when they need to respond.
By telling the reader why they need to respond, you’re highlighting the value of their role while also motivating them to make the extra effort.
By telling the reader when they need to respond, you’re reminding them that other activates may not be able to progress until they have replied. You can reinforce this point by highlighting the ramifications of such inaction on their part. Again, be careful how you phrase it. But don’t assume they know the importance of an email unless you tell them.
Summarize and signoff
Don’t repeat yourself for the sake of it. If you’ve used headings and lists, the reader will understand what’s required of them. Thank them and move on.
Provide Contact DetailsThis sounds obvious but not everyone provides contact details in their email. There is no excuse for this type of laziness. Learn to create a signature file. If you use Microsoft Outlook, go to Tools, Options, and click the Mail Format tab.
In the Compose in this message format list, click the message format that you want to use the signature with. Add your job title, email address, and phone numbers.
You don’t have to use emails for all business communications. Pick up the phone and talk to people. Use emails where appropriate but consider other channels too. Talking is often more productive, especially if you need a simple yes/no answer.
As mentioned in difference places above, tone is important in all business correspondence. Tone is the voice you use when writing. It can be warm, friendly, blasé, curt, blunt or patronizing. It all depends on the emotional attitude you take with your reader.
In the business world, it pays dividends to develop a writing style that encourages others (especially those you will never meet face to face) to proactively communicate with you. Developing a successful writing style takes practice. We’ll talk more about tone in the coming weeks. For now, start using heading and the occasional list in your emails – you’ll see the difference very soon.