With email so ingrained in our lives these days, it’s hard to imagine there is much left to learn, right? Not necessarily! I had a conversation just last night with my husband who openly admitted he never proofreads his emails.
As a business owner with an online model relying heavily on email to communicate with clients, I am often surprised by the number of poorly-worded, error-riddled emails I receive. It really is amazing how words and tone can be misconstrued when written down, so I thought I would share a few pointers on how to effectively get your message across, without sounding or looking like a jerk.
Remember, politeness is key! And if in doubt, just think, it’s actually rather difficult to be too nice.
1. Subject line
It’s pretty amazing how many emails are flying around out there subject-free. Madness! It’s very important to include a subject line, and to ensure it is relevant and concise. Something we’re all guilty of is the old ‘as discussed’ subject line, which doesn’t exactly offer the recipient a compelling reason to open your email, and besides, they may have discussed a dozen topics since your particular conversation. Best to be specific.
No need to go overboard here, but a simple ‘dear so-and-so, I hope you’re well’ never goes astray, and will generally get you started off on the right foot.
Wherever possible, try and stick to one topic per email. You’re more likely to receive the response you were looking for; not to mention that restricting yourself to one subject will keep the length of your email reasonable. No one has time to read an essay! That said, I know it’s not always possible to keep to one topic, and that’s when it’s time to consider our next point.
4. Punctuation and formatting
As with any written document, punctuation and formatting both play a critical role in effectively engaging the reader. If, upon opening your email, your recipient is slapped in the face with a huge chunk of text containing no punctuation, they will be more inclined not to read it (at least not immediately), and are almost certain to miss an important point.
Spacing out your text and points of discussion in separate paragraphs not only keeps things looking neat, but also assists in conveying your message and intentions clearly. Plus you stand a much better chance of receiving a specific response for each topic.
And in case there is any confusion, ALL CAPITAL LETTERS is still (and always will be) the equivalent of yelling, which isn’t particularly professional or pleasant to receive.
It’s important to allow your reader enough time to receive and respond to your email, and also to bear in mind that their priorities and workload are not necessarily the same as yours. If you require a quick response in order to meet a deadline, you will do well to encourage, rather than order or demand one.
6. Closing off
As with your opening greeting, signing off politely is just as important if you want to encourage that response we talked about in point 5. If you’re waiting on something, or asking for a favour of any kind, you might like to thank the recipient in advance for their assistance. A simple ‘kind regards’ followed by your name and email signature is about all else that is required.
7. Edit and proof
So I mentioned before about my wayward husband not proofreading his emails, which to me seems crazy. How many times have you hit send only to spot a glaring error just as it’s too late? Argh! The worst! A quick glance over your subject line and content could save you from a world of embarrassment, and really takes no time at all. Try to get into the habit of proofreading – especially when emailing those senior to you, or for important matters such as a job application.
8. Following up
So you’ve crafted the perfect email and sent it off. How long do you wait before following up? The answer of course, depends entirely on the urgency and timeframes available. Generally speaking, if you emailed someone on a Monday afternoon, you probably wouldn’t want to follow up until Wednesday morning – after all, you don’t want to be seen as harassing people. However, if time is not on your side then a gentle reminder email followed by a good old-fashioned phone call is your likely your best bet.