Friday, April 29, 2016

Want Better Emails? Try these 20 Tips.

The use of emails as a method of communication was scheduled to be one of my upcoming posts, but Business Insider beat me to the story. I'm actually glad they did because I doubt I could have written a more interesting article than “16 Unprofessional Email Habits That Make Everyone Hate You.” How about that for a title?

Business Insider, in its April 22, 2016 article (the link is below), states that the following are 16 practices to avoid at all costs:

• Sending urgent emails that aren’t urgent
• Being too casual—Being too stiff—Replying to all
• CC’ing without approval—BCC’ing—Using a vague subject line
• Sending too many personal emails—Being snippy—Being curt
• A ridiculous email address—Numerous typos—Sending emails at 3 a.m.
• Annoying punctuation—Unprofessional fonts—Going too long

Whew! Once I came up for air, this article got me thinking about some other improvements that would be helpful in communicating our thoughts via email, which is a ubiquitous mode of communication that is going to be with us for a while. In addition to the above List of 16, I offer you a supplemental list of 4 email practices that will ensure your emails are looking great.

1. Decide if you need to send an email. Most of us would probably admit we get or send way too much email. There is one easy solution to this challenge: send fewer emails. That is, would it work as well or better to pick up the phone and call the intended recipient? If you’re in the same work area, how about getting up and walking over to their desk and striking up a conversation? By personally delivering your message by phone or in person, you’ll get the opportunity to discuss the issue and work out any details or challenges instead of launching a multi-day back-and-forth chain of emails that will leave you and others exhausted and frustrated.

Of course, if several people need to be involved in the discussion, personal delivery by phone or in person might not work; you may have to send a multi-recipient email or discuss the topic at a meeting. The day after you read this blog post of mine, phone someone or walk over to them in lieu of an email, and see how that works for you.

2. Get to the point. One sure way to have your readers disregard your email is by not getting to the point quickly enough. It may seem to you that sending a nice, entertaining, and quirky email would be the right thing to do—but that’s usually not the case. I will give you two tips that many experts on presentations or speeches give to their attendees; the same principles apply to writing an email or using other forms of communication.

Open with purpose and detail. Your email should have at least three sections: opening; main body & supporting facts; and conclusion. In the case of emails, the opening is sometimes not there at all, not there in sufficient detail, or vague. Your job is to ensure your opening is clear, precise, and obvious; it should tell your reader what to expect in the email.

Use the BLUF technique. BLUF (an acronym for Bottom Line Up Front) is especially helpful by using a couple of follow-on sentences right after you tell your readers why you're sending them the email. After giving the purpose of your email, tell the readers about your conclusions or recommendations; that is, give them the bottom line. This guides the readers and allows them to see clearly what your email is all about and what other things to expect in the email’s main body, such as facts or arguments.

Some emails, of course, will not contain a lot of facts and arguments, though the BLUF technique can still be used successfully and succinctly at the beginning of your email. Keep your opening short and precise, and briefly tell the readers what you're going to say in the rest of your email. If you’re in the middle of a brief back-and-forth email or possibly a quick one-liner email, the BLUF technique probably will not be needed.

3. Include sufficient information. Sufficient information for emails includes all the knowledge, facts, or data that is necessary for your readers to completely understand your email and its message. It is up to you to determine what is sufficient, though I can make three points about this area.

First, it may be helpful to you to briefly outline a complicated email before you write it. That is, jot down some key points that you believe should be included in the email and use these points as you compose the email.

Second, think about your message from the perspective of your readers and consider what they need to know to understand your email; include this information in your email.

Third, review what you have written and take a fresh look at the email’s contents. Is the message logical and orderly? Would it make sense to your recipients when they receive it? Does the message convey what you want to say?

4. Review before sending. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, it's important to check for typos, punctuation errors, and content accuracy in all communication that we create. However, you’ve got to bump it up a notch when using emails. Check carefully the substance of your emails because emails are designed to be a short and quick means of conveying information; with this advantage of almost instantaneous delivery, you have a disadvantage of a potential increase in the number of errors. Ask yourself:

• Do the emails tell the narrative you want to tell in a logical progression?

• Do the emails make sense?

• Are you certain the readers of your emails will understand completely and easily what you're trying to communicate?

• Are you using the right tone and formality?

• Can you trim the emails and eliminate unnecessary sentences?

To answer these questions, you must re-read all emails at least once. When emails are unusually important or going out to a large audience, you need to re-read them more than once. If possible, print your important emails and review them on paper, and you’ll get a different visual perspective of what you wrote and see some areas that need improvement.

If you’re up for more reading on the subject of emails, here’s the link to the Business Insider article:

As always, thank you for your time today, and I hope that the tips I passed along are useful. Please bookmark my blog, and if you have any thoughts or questions, please contact me or leave a comment. See you next month.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

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