A good part of your work day is spent (or wasted) sending and responding to email messages. Follow the tips below to ensure your time– and the time of your email recipients– is well spent.
1. Consider your audience
Start by addressing the following questions to ensure your message hits the mark:
- Who is the recipient or audience for your message or request?
- What do you want or need your audience to know or do?
- What does your audience want to know?
- What might your audience misinterpret or get wrong?
- When does your audience need to know the information?
- Who is the most appropriate person to deliver the message?
- Is email the best approach for what you hope and need to achieve? Messages that require dialogue or include sensitive content (e.g., bad news, constructive feedback, time sensitive) are best delivered in person or over the phone.
2. Make your subject line count
Most of us sort by subject title, so make it easy for people to sort and respond to your message by following the formats below.
- For informational messages use: “<Topic: Topic Item>”. For example:
- Newsletter: Effective Email Communications
- Training: Building a Problem-Solving Culture on <date>
- For emails requiring an action use: “Request: <Insert action item by <date>”. For example:
- Request: Provide feedback on project charter by <date>
- Request: Vacation Leave
3. Get to the point
We are bombarded with emails every day. Before you write a message ask yourself, “Is this message needed?” If not, don’t send it! You have just saved your coworkers time and they would thank you if they knew. Knowing that the more messages you send, the more you are likely to receive may be the right encouragement needed to make this practice a habit.
If a message is needed, make it easy for your audience to pick out the main point within the first sentence or two. For example, state the purpose of your message and any specific action request at the top of your message, and place context or background at the end.
4. Use Plain Language
Plain language is writing in a manner that enables your audience to read, understand, and act on your message easily and quickly. Communicating clearly builds audience trust and confidence in your message and in your organization. Apply the practices below to enhance your communication effectiveness.
- Use headers to identify related content.
- Keep sentence length reasonable (break sentences up that are longer than 20-25 words).
- Put important information at the top.
- Use bulleted or numbered lists.
- Arrange words, dates, and action steps in a logical order.
- Eliminate unneeded/redundant words (some of you will get this reference!).
- Minimize acronyms and spell them out the first time they are used.
- Select font type, size, color, and letter spacing that makes your message easy to read.
- Use active not passive voice (see Plain Writing Tips – Passive Voice and Zombies)
- Avoid complex words when a shorter and more commonly understood word will do (e.g., Use vs Utilize, Stop vs Cease. For other examples: “Plain Language: A few words from the Federal Register”).
5. Check it … then check it again
Mistakes in spelling, content, and attachments can lead to miscommunication and potential embarrassment. An easy solution is to check your message and verify that data is correct, assumptions have been validated, and you have attached the appropriate document or materials before you hit “send.”
And because we are human, most email software has an option to retrieve and resend a message, but only if you catch your errors quickly and know how to use this function!
6. Use “Reply All” judiciously
We have all been annoyed by a coworker who “replied all” to an organization-wide distribution list. For the sanity of your coworkers, follow the rules below for group messages.
- Reply all if requested by the sender or if your response will inform the understanding or decisions of other message recipients.
- Reply to sender if your response is only pertinent to the sender (e.g., Group message to see who is interested in being part of a new project team). This option is typically your best option.
- Do not reply to group messages that are solely informational.
NOTE: When sending informational messages, put recipients’ names in the bcc line to eliminate the ability of people to select “reply all”.
By Cristine Leavitt, Owner of Gazelle Strategies (www.gazellestrategies.com)