Most people aren’t doing email correctly. There are a number of costly mistakes that both employees and job seekers are making when it comes to their email etiquette; from failing to greet their recipient to writing inappropriate messages and putting their job on the line. An email is not a text message or Facebook comment thread; the process of composing an effective email requires more thought and consideration on the part of the sender than most other forms of online communication. An effective email is one with a clear purpose that makes it easy for recipients to respond.
By employing certain trade tricks to your writing, your emails should become stronger means of communication, and you will become more adept at decoding incoming messages and have a better understanding of how your messages are interpreted by others.
Email has forever changed our lives, both personally and professionally. Thanks to the internet, email has now become a primary method of communication between people. It has no paper trail, is practically instantaneous and limited only by an internet connection. It is also the primary method of communication used by most businesses and a fast and effective way to communicate with people you don’t see every day.
Between 2000 and 2015, Australia’s internet usage increased by over 250% according to research by World Internet Users, which indicates just how prevalent information technology is and how it has ingrained itself into our personal and professional lives.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 88.8% of the Australian population use email at least once a day. This communication method is so large-scale that email marketers spend thousands of hours each year finding and establishing best practices in order to increase the chances that you open one of the many millions of spam emails sent to Australians every year. It’s a dark art that can mean big money for brands and advertisers who use email to get their message out.
To put that into context, 93% of email users have opt-in relationships with a consumer brand, as opposed to 15% on Facebook and 4% on Twitter according to Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs. That means that email is still the best way to speak to someone directly if you want to elicit an answer. In addition, sending an email is still the best way to contact an individual you do not know personally.
It may seem obvious, but too often a sender will compose an email that contains too many unrelated, vague points yet still expects an adequate response from the recipient. Before you even start typing, think about why you want to write the email (its purpose) and what you want the recipient to do (action). Gather all the information you need to provide to ensure that in order to complete a request a person does not have to ask for additional sources.
There are many reasons as to why you might want to compose an email, including:
Remember, each reason has a different aim and so your approach should be tailored to meet that aim. By being clear in your mind, you can start off on the right foot. You can create highly effective emails. If you are not sure about what you need, pick up the phone and make a call. Don’t make ambiguous requests.
Employees are often consumed with trying to filter through the mass of information sent to them via email. Recognise that when you’re crafting an email, you want to put forward the best version of your true self. You need to be professional, but as with any face-to-face interaction don’t be afraid to express warmth in your writing. Text on the page can read rather flat if you’re focused on being too formal without considering that you’re really just talking to another human being.
Good communicators know how to use electronic communication to build their persona by being warm and personable, as well as empathetic and accommodating. Phrases like “if you get some time, could you take a look at this?”, or “I would greatly appreciate” or even just a simple “thanks” all express gratitude for the receivers’ time and help them to identify you as someone who is genuine.
The subject line is the first thing your recipient is going to see, so it’s arguably the most important part to consider when composing your email. Remember, the person you’re emailing is likely receiving hundreds of other emails that need to be dealt with. Yours is not the only one, so make it easy for them.
DO include a subject line that summarises the main idea of your email. Be descriptive if you need to, as this will also aid someone who is using the search function to find your email in the future.
DO give them a reason to open your email quickly.
DO say what you need to say immediately.
DO be specific – a subject line like “can you help me?” is too vague and it doesn’t address the content within the email; however “I need help with the table of contents” for example, is more specific and requires less time to figure out.
DO NOT leave the subject line blank – this shows laziness and lack of respect for the recipient.
DO NOT write “please read this” or “super urgent”. There are tagging systems available to denote importance. Ask your line manager if there is already a priority system in place.
DO NOT write “Hi”. Refrain from one word subject lines that say nothing about the message inside.
DO NOT write click bait headlines that may be mistaken for spam such as “Complimentary gift for you inside”.
Poor formatting in an email can get in the way of your message and leave your email ignored or misinterpreted. The reader may have some difficulty understanding what it is that you’re trying to say. An email is just as much visual as it is textual, and getting the right look and feel of your email is very important.
Length, headings and sub titles are grammatical tools used to make reading and understanding easier, and if you are unable to use these basic writing skills your emails won’t be as effective as they could be.
DO use plenty of paragraphs.
DO include an email signature with details such as your phone number, website and email address.
DO take advantage of white space to make it easier to read.
DO address the person by name at the beginning of an email along with a friendly greeting, for example “Good morning John, I hope you have had a good week”
DO NOT clutter your emails.
DO NOT include irrelevant information. It’s safer to stick to a few main points than try to address multiple things in one email.
DO NOT attach documents unless you really need to (copy and paste the important sections if possible).
Some people write lengthy, drawn-out emails that take forever to get to the point. Others are lazy with their language and word choices, their emails too short and abrupt and missing important information. You need to strike the right balance to maintain clarity and make your point.
DO keep it conversational. This is not an academic essay.
DO Keep your sentences short and use fewer and shorter paragraphs.
DO pay attention to your spelling (especially the recipient’s name) and grammar and don’t forget to proofread.
DO edit for jargon and avoid using too many abbreviations. If not, you convey a lack of attention to detail.
DO start with a friendly salutation and address the person you are writing to. Give complete information; the recipient should not have to get back to you for more information. Avoid the possibility of confusion and delays.
Top Tip: When writing in response to somebody’s email, mirror their approach. How do they usually communicate with you? Do they write two sentences to your four paragraphs? Match their style to achieve a result for your writing effort. Remember, email is meant for simple, quick communication. Say what you want to say, say it quickly, and say it just once.
DO NOT use long and drawn out introductions – you are not writing a novel. Get to the point quickly.
DO NOT make your email too “wordy”. Choose your words carefully. Think clear and concise. Always be thinking “what is the aim of the email, what action do you wish the recipient to take?”
DO NOT provide lengthy background information. Attach a file if extra information is required.
Having a bad day? Feeling particularly sad or frustrated about something? It might feel good to let off some steam by writing a bitter email to a colleague, but this is an inappropriate way to deal with a difficult situation at work. Emails should never be used as a means to chastise or embarrass an individual, or to reveal personal and sensitive information. While it may seem like common sense, people still make these mistakes every day. Remember, emails are permanent and can be read by virtually anybody, so don’t put yourself in a situation where you could lose your job.
DO write your email and save it as a draft. Go over it when you are feeling calmer and then revise accordingly. Send when your head is clear and you are “yourself” again.
Top Tip: Always think of email as something that may become public. Presume any email you write can be read by anybody else — and write accordingly.
DO NOT say anything you wouldn’t say to somebody’s face. When writing an email, in the heat of the moment you might forget that there is a human at the other end. You might end up saying something you’ll regret later on.
DO NOT use satire. Emails are terrible for saying anything that is tongue-in-cheek. The recipient can’t see your body language or hear your tone of your voice to gauge whether you are kidding or being sarcastic. There is a greater possibility of your emails being misread. Jokes usually do not transfer well, especially when writing to somebody for the first time.
DO NOT apologise or address mistakes by email. Show respect and talk to them face to face.
When you write an email to someone you don’t know personally, it’s best to play it safe and avoid using smiley faces and informal or abbreviated language. Also make sure you let the person know what it is you need from them, whether that’s a reply or a document.
DO ask the recipient to perform a specific action such as giving you more details on a project.
DO ask the recipient to confirm if they are available for a conference call the next day.
DO set up an automatic “out-of-office” alert if you will be away from your desk without access to emails.
DO NOT assume the recipient knows who you are – include an email signature with your contact details, website and other information.
DO NOT wait too long to respond if you hear back quickly
DO NOT be impatient. Wait 24-48 hours before following up if you don’t receive a response.