Tuesday, February 21, 2012


A repeated discussion I’ve had with friends and colleagues recently is about emails and how opening your in-box can be like opening a Pandora’s box of incorrect grammar, poor spelling, and even bad taste.  It seems as if everyone knows how to write a snail mail letter and usually takes great care in doing so.  But emails have a tendency to be another matter entirely.   Emails, just like snail mail makes an impression on the reader so when they are poorly written and inappropriate the effect can be devastating to your business and reputation.  It is time for people to step back and think about the content and style of the email that they are about to click off.

Here are a few suggestions that will set your emails apart and hopefully help you to make a great impression!!!

·       Use the recipient fields correctly:  If you’re sending an email to one person, place their email address in the “to” field. If you are sending the same email to others, add these addresses in the “CC:” field. Remember that all the recipients listed in the “cc” field will be able to see all the other recipients’ email addresses.  If this is undesirable (for example, if you’re sending an email to people who don’t know each other), protect their privacy by entering each address in the “BCC:” field. This sends everyone a “blind carbon copy.” For company email, use of "BCC:" may be considered impolite; addressees in the "to" field are expected to take action, and those on "CC:" are for keeping colleagues or bosses informed.

·       Make the subject line useful:  A good subject line provides a useful summary of the email's content, preparing the reader quickly. Email inboxes are frequently swamped, so a good subject line helps the recipient determine the priority of your email. It also helps to prevent your email from being deleted before it has even been read. Since the subject is the first thing your recipient sees, keep it error free, concise, and avoid generic lines such as "Hi," "What's up," or the recipient's name (the latter may be blocked by anti-spam filters).

·       Be consistent in your format:  Some formats use-skipped lines rather than indents for new paragraphs. Some use double space between sentences. Choose either to spell out your numbers or use digits—do not alternate between them in the same email. If a word or notation is capitalized in one case, it should be so in all cases.

·       Avoid prioritizing your messages:  It is irritating and presumptuous to assume your e-mail request is higher in the queue than anybody else's, especially in a work context. Be gracious enough to give the receiver credit for working out for them how to prioritize your message.

·       Greet your recipient:  Letters generally begin with the salutation "Dear (recipient's name)". On the other hand, emails are generally less formal, and "Hi" or "Hello" usually suffices. Depending on the purpose of the email, for example, if it's a cover letter for a job application, you may want to use the traditional format instead. Politeness cannot be overdone.

·       Keep your email concise, conversational, and focused:  It is harder to read letters on a computer screen than on a sheet of paper, so keep emails short and to the point. While there is no ideal email length, keep sentences short, about 8-12 words and leave a space between paragraphs.

·       Use proper grammar and spelling:  An email reflects on its author, and an email with spelling or grammar errors reflects poorly. Use Standard English, and proofread and spell-check emails as you would any written communication. Error-free email is easier for the recipient to read.

·       Schedule reply to emails. Unlike snail mail, emails arrive instantly, and the sender knows this. People typically expect a quick response, and while it's polite to try to meet these expectations, doing so chews up an enormous amount of your time. It is a sensible idea to schedule times to read and respond to emails, making you more productive. Alert your colleagues, through an email signature or response, that urgent items should be done by telephone or face-to-face meet-ups, and that otherwise, you will get back to the person within a specified time frame. People will learn soon enough how your method operates.

·       Determine to whom you should reply:  Emails sent to you solely generally require that you reply only to the sender, but for emails sent to several people, you may need to choose the "Reply to All" option to send your response to everyone. Be judicious: Using "Reply All" all the time creates returns in abundance and leaves messages languishing in the in-boxes of many people. Consider the consequences of receiving an email, hitting reply all and it goes out to twenty people and then those twenty people hit reply to all; it can compound very quickly into hundreds of thousands of emails and everyone feels compelled to hit "reply all" as a means of keeping everyone in the loop because nobody knows who is meant to read it and who is not! Which invariably means that nobody ends up actioning the item!

·       Think twice before replying to just say thank you:  Some people don't want an email that says "thanks". This takes additional energy to open the email and read it just to read what you already know. A new trend is to include a line that says NTN - No Thanks Needed.

·       Edit long emails when replying to them:  Generally your reply to an email will include the original email, as well. If the original email is short, you can just reply to it as is, but if it's longer, delete irrelevant parts (especially headers and signatures). Organize the reply so that you quote parts of the original email and place your responses to each part directly below so that the recipient will know exactly what questions or statements from his or her email you are responding to.

·       Be sure to include info that you are responding to:  Many people, and companies, write and respond to hundreds of emails every day. Avoid sending an indistinct email that says only ‘Yes.’ Include the question that the recipient asked so they know what you are responding to.

·       End your email politely:  Closing with a statement such as "Best wishes," "Good luck," or "Thanks in advance for your help," can soften even a harsh email and can elicit a more favorable reply.

·       Sign your name:  Doing this is polite and personal. Just type your name at the end of each email, or use your email application to create a default signature with your name, title, and contact information.

·       Limit attachments:  Don't add an attachment unless really necessary. Keep attachments as small as possible. Most email applications can send and receive attachments up to 1 MB, but anything over that can be a hassle for you or the recipient, and even smaller files can take a long time to open if the recipient's email connection is slow. If you need to send a larger file, compress or zip it or use online services that will help you send large files such as If you need to send multiple pages, such as meeting plans or large text corrections, send a fax or a typed set of pages in a letter.

·       Don't ignore valid emails. If someone asks you a valid question in an email, reply to it, even if the answer is not what he or she wants to hear. If you need to pass it to someone else, then CC: the sender so they know what is going on. It's frustrating to be ignored. If the person was on the phone or in front of you, chances are you would not ignore them if they asked a question, so don't do it in an email.

·       Be careful of who you copy on replies. If you reply to a message and then CC: a third-party that the original sender did not include is certain in your mind that the original sender will not be upset about it. This information may have been "for your eyes-only". This is especially important if the original sender is your work supervisor. Be cautious about using BCC: This can backfire if the person being BCC:'d replies back, not having seen that their copy was a blind one.

·       Think before you send. Don't send e-mails when you are emotional. Feel free to write the subject and text of the email, then save it. Only add the recipients and send it after you have had time to think about what you are sending; you might change your mind and be better off for it. Better yet, pick up the phone or even go to see the person face-to-face. It is hard enough to judge the tone of an email, even with the prevalent use of emoticons. A person's voice should tell you more about his or her intent than the written word will.

·       Be careful using abbreviations and emoticons. This may be acceptable in an informal e-mail such as with a friend. However, in a formal letter you wouldn't have to tell someone that you're "laughing out loud," people may find it inappropriate, and could feel you are being frivolous.

No comments:

Post a Comment