By Laura Brown, author of “How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide“
When it comes to e-mail, everyone has their own set of do’s and don’ts and their own pet peeves. Whether we use it at work or at home, most of us use e-mail to get things done. Although it’s easy to go on automatic pilot when you open your inbox, you can significantly improve your productivity and success by paying careful attention to how you write your e-mail messages.
These dos and don’ts can make your reader’s experience more pleasant and your messages more effective:
Keep your message as brief as possible. It shows respect for your reader, and you have a better chance of being read and responded to.
– State right up front why you’re writing, within the first two lines of the message. Don’t count on recipients to read to the end to figure out what you want.
– Use a concise and specific subject line. A good subject line helps readers prioritize messages and find them later. If your message is especially important, consider putting “important” or “response needed” in the subject line.
– Limit your e-mail to one topic only. When you cover multiple topics in a single message, you risk burying important information.
– Be courteous. We’re all in a hurry, but it doesn’t take long to type “please” and “thank you,” and you’ll get better results.
– Remember that e-mail isn’t private, and be discreet about the content. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times people hear this advice; there’s always someone in the news learning the hard way by having their e-mails subpoenaed or plastered all over the front page of the newspaper. Don’t ever put anything in an e-mail that you would be uncomfortable sharing with the entire world.
– Don’t send an e-mail when a phone call would be more appropriate. Don’t engage in rounds of e-mail when a quick phone call could resolve the question.
– Don’t write anything private, confidential or potentially incriminating in an e-mail. (Yes, I know I said the same thing in the section above; I’m saying again here.)
– Don’t introduce a new topic in the middle of an e-mail thread. If you’re changing the subject, create a new message with a different subject line.
– Don’t copy people on an e-mail unless there’s a good reason for it. Our inboxes are full enough without e-mails we really don’t need to see.
– Don’t forget to proofread. Of course you’re in a hurry, but taking a moment to proofread before you hit the send button can save lots of time in the long run.
It’s important to consider your reader’s needs and expectations whenever you write, but for e-mail it’s especially important. Before you hit the send button, ask yourself how you would feel about receiving the e-mail you’re about to dispatch; if the thought makes you cringe, revise the message. Putting yourself in your reader’s shoes can help you avoid the most common e-mail mistakes and ensure you’re communicating effectively.
© 2014 Laura Brown, author of “How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide“
Laura Brown, PhD, author of “How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide“, has taught writing to just about everyone – from corporate executives to high school students. Her expertise encompasses instructor-led training, individual coaching, classroom teaching, and e-learning development. She has more than twenty-five years’ experience providing training and coaching in business writing, and she has also taught composition and literature at Columbia University.