Have you ever had an email “blow up” on you? Or, have you seen one “blow up” on someone else?
Was it misunderstood, generating negative feedback, necessitating follow-up emails, and even lengthy phone calls trying to “fix” things?
If the answer is “yes”, the tips below might prevent this from happening again or at least, mitigate the damage.
Based on our experience and an evaluation of best practices, here’s what’s important in an email:
- Focus on your intent
- Write a clear subject line
- Decide on who will be cc’ed on the email
- Number and prioritize the key points in your email
- Summarize attachments
- Think about what you are going to say
- Assume the world is going to see it
- Pick up the phone
Here’s how to make these 9 tips work for you…
1. Focus on Your Intent. What is the purpose of the email? Make it clear at the beginning of the email.
And, keep in mind that email works best when used to share information.
A simple opening line can help. “The purpose of this email is to get agreement on Agenda items for Thursday’s meeting” or “Have we heard if the Boar proposal has been approved yet?”
2. Write a Clear Subject Line. What’s the email about? This should be stated in the subject line.
Examples might include, “New President at XYZ Corp. Need clarity.” or “Today’s meeting rescheduled – please reply with avails by 3pm”.
3. Decide Who Will Be CC’ed On The Email. Don’t copy anyone who doesn’t need to see the email. You will waste their time and might even confuse them. For more clarity on this important issue, please see our blog on using email productively.
4. Number and Prioritize The Key Points In Your Email. If your mail has more than one point, number each point separately in the body of the email.
And, start with the most important point.
This is particularly important because of the speed at which people read emails.
It’s easy to miss something. Numbering helps the reader separate the points and makes it less likely they will confuse one point with another.
It also helps when they reply to your email because they can reference the specific numbered point(s) they are replying to.
5. Summarize Attachments. For lots of reasons, many people don’t read email attachments.
So, if you include an attachment, briefly summarize the important points in the body of the email, along with relevant highlights.
If necessary, for precision, you might want to include a “cut and paste” from some of the critical items in the attachment, making sure to context their relevance.
6. Think About What You Are Going To Say. The more important the email, the more critical it is to make sure you have the facts right and the tone appropriate.
You might want to “rough out” the key points before you start writing and then think them through before creating the email you will send.
This exercise will also help you trim the fat, keeping the email as short as possible.
7. Proofread. Typos suggest a hurried writer. And, they have the potential to increase miscommunication.
Before pressing “send”, some people send their email to themselves first, so they can read what they’ve said with a “fresh” perspective. This is especially important if you are upset or hurried when you write.
8. Assume the World Will See It. Don’t write anything you don’t want the whole world to see. Even if you mark it “confidential”.
Emails are often forwarded or shared without the sender’s permission.
9. Pick Up the Phone. If composing your email has taken you more than 10 minutes, stop writing and arrange a meeting or pick up the phone. It’s likely your email won’t work as well as a conversation. The reasons why this is important can be found here.
We use these guidelines consistently and hope you find these suggestions helpful. In our next blog, we will focus on how to effectively reply to an email in business.