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Do Your Emails Suck? How to Write Emails That Get Results

Do Your Emails Suck? How to Write Emails That Get Results

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Do Your Emails Suck?

    Feel like a slave to your inbox? Improve your writing and you’ll save plenty of time by eliminating miscommunications and the need for follow-up. Email management productivity tips can only do so much if you don’t know how to write an effective email. That doesn’t mean you have to strive for lyrical prose in every message (though I always welcome lyrical prose in my inbox). The key is to communicate clearly and effectively so that recipients know exactly what they need to do in response and you can avoid endless back-and-forth and time-consuming misunderstandings. The following are some basic guidelines for writing more effective emails:

    • Get to the Point: Every email that you write should have a clear purpose. For example, your purpose may be to deliver key information, to request a follow-up action, or to persuade someone to your point of view. In a well-written email, the purpose is stated early (in the first line of the email if possible) and followed by whatever supporting points that the reader is likely to need. Don’t burden your reader with paragraphs full of non-essential details. Don’t make him try to figure out what it is that you want. If you fail to state your purpose clearly or write long, meandering intros before getting to the point, your email is far more likely to get ignored or filed away for “later” and never looked at again. That means you’ll soon be writing another email.
    • It’s Not About You: Always keep your reader’s point of view in mind. Who is your audience? What do they care about in relation to this message? What details do they need to act on the email? Don’t assume that everybody’s priorities are the same as yours or that everyone has your frame of reference. To get the response you want, communicate what’s in it for the reader and make it as easy as possible to respond.
    • Write a Good Subject Line: Your recipients get a lot of email, including plenty of junk from both spammers and inconsiderate colleagues. Your email will likely be competing for attention in a very busy inbox. Therefore, you will always get a faster response if you take a moment to craft a clear and specific subject line that communicates why your message is important. Think about your subject line as a headline – it should make your recipient want to read more. For example, the subject line “Forms” is far less likely to get a speedy response than “Insurance Forms Due Monday.” And remember, if you’re forwarding or replying to a previous email, it may be worthwhile to change the subject line if you are introducing a new topic or purpose.
    • Don’t Take That Tone with Me! Getting your tone right in an email can be tricky. What you see as direct can be interpreted as insulting. What you consider enthusiasm can be read as pushiness. Nobody is eager to respond to an email with an attitude problem. You may even inadvertently set off a hissy fit, snit, or passive aggressive pout. None of these are conducive to productivity. Read over your email before you press send and think about how it will read. Are there any phrasings that could be misinterpreted? Would a “please” or “thank you” hurt? Of course, there are times when you have to deliver bad news or negative feedback and you can’t avoid a little bit of tone. In those situations, you’re probably better off scheduling a face-to-face meeting or phone call to minimize misunderstandings and give everyone a chance to clear the air.
    • Write Like a Grown-up – When you’re writing a professional email, spelling and grammar really do count. Save your uncapitalized, run-on sentences and your excessive LOLs and !!!s for the American Idol message board. If you want your email to be taken seriously, take a little time to proofread for embarrassing errors. And the same rules apply when you’re emailing from your PDA. People may cut you a little extra slack if they know you’re composing on a tiny keyboard at a stoplight, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to write like a grade schooler.
    • Don’t CC the Entire Free World: Think about who REALLY needs to see the message and leave everybody else out of it. Once you get a reputation for reckless CC’ing, your messages are likely to go to the bottom of the priority list.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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