Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Effective emails

Most of us spend much of our waking lives reading and writing emails. Badly written emails waste time and can hinder instead of promote effective communication.

What are the key things to remember when trying to write emails that will achieve their effects?

Subject headings

I receive a few hundred emails a day. If I read each one, I would not have time to do anything else.
How do I know which ones to read?
By (1) looking at who sent each email and (2) reading the subject heading.
I then decide whether to (1) file them in folders, (2) delete them or (3) open them.
To ensure that your recipient opens an email, compose an effective subject heading that provides all necessary information about the contents of the email. Write your subject heading as if it were a newspaper headline.

Don't make too many points (one is usually enough)

If you want action, give your recipient one clear piece of information or instruction. This makes it easy to make a decision or provide information and respond quickly. If you write a long missive, expect the person who reads it to work at writing a similarly long and complex reply.

Include relevant details

Leaving dates, times, places, file numbers, phone numbers, order numbers and other details vague is no help. Put these where they will be of most use to the reader: in the subject heading, in the body of the email or in the address section.

Get the tone right

In face-to-face communication, i.e. conversation, each party has extra information to help understand what the other is saying. Visual cues, such as facial expression and hand gestures, can be decisive in getting a message over. On the phone, there are no visual cues (though in many cultures people behave as if there were), but you may still receive some extra information from the tone of voice or from hesitations. Written communication lacks these cues and so is prone to more misunderstanding. Humor should be left out of emails, unless the email is intended purely as a joke. Irony (to be explained in a later post) is a dangerous component of an email, especially if the email is sent to someone who you do not know well.

Good manners

Politeness is important in emails as in any other form of communication. Even if you have a negative message, think twice about sending an email that may be considered rude by the recipient. If you are angry with someone, get it off your chest by drafting a strong email, making sure not to complete the "To" box. Then select the message with Ctl+A and press the delete key. You can now send an objectively-written, polite email intended to produce the action you want from the recipient, not start a fight.

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