Writing is important. Making sure your messages come across clear and concise is equally as important. Too short of an e-mail and your recipient may think you aren’t giving the topic the attention it deserves, and too long of an e-mail can imply lack of focus and disorganization. Where do you draw the line? How do you get the perfect balance between informed and directly to the point? Well, the answer is simple. Write how you speak, but keep it professional.
I’m not writing this blog post declare there’s only one way to correctly compose an e-mail. That’s certainly not the case. In fact, I’d suspect there will be people that read this post and nitpick the way that it’s written or disagree with the suggestions below. The reality is, different tactics work for different people. If there’s something that makes sense for your writing style, adapt it as your own and continue to make improvements with every keystroke.
First and foremost, ask yourself “Should this be communicated through e-mail?
In the digital world, it’s really easy to communicate via e-mail, text messaging, and social media. It’s reduced the level of human interaction dramatically, now mostly consisting of characters on a display in your hand or on a monitor in front of you. However, sometimes a message is best delivered in person, or if that’s not feasible, over the phone. Extremely high priority or sensitive topics call for a more personal delivery of the message. Don’t use e-mail as a crutch to handle a difficult situation.
Next, understand the context around the message
If you’ve decided that e-mailing is the proper course of action, or if you’re responding to an e-mail, make sure you can make an informed response. If you’ve only just been added to the bottom of a lengthy thread, make sure to read everything that’s been communicated prior to writing your response. The last thing you want to do is ask a question about something that’s already been covered, or write a response that isn’t aligned with the current direction of the thread. Making sure you understand the topic before diving in will help everyone else feel that you’re contributing something of value and that you respect their thoughts as well.
Forget being shy, write with confidence
Imagine that every time you write an e-mail you’re standing at a podium, and you’ve just commanded everyone’s attention. You may not have the full undivided attention of every person that reads your e-mails, but the general idea is still true. When speaking in person, you can be misunderstood or you may misspeak under pressure or in unfamiliar territory. However, when writing an e-mail you have full control of the situation. Make sure what you’re writing is what you actually intend to say. Sometimes it can be hard to pick apart your own writing, so have an unbiased third party read the message and give you feedback. You’ll eventually start seeing some of the patterns in the way you write and correct the issues on your own.
Last but not least, know your audience
This one is extremely important. It may seem like common sense, but your target recipient will be the one to determine how effective or relevant your e-mail actually is. If it’s a client you know well and the topic is not of urgent importance, you can keep the e-mail relatively casual. However, if you find yourself sending an e-mail with a wider range of people on the distribution list, keep it professional. E-mail forwarding happens often, and you don’t want to be in a negative situation as the result of that.
All in all, there are always ways to improve your writing. Like everything else, it takes practice. Write e-mails often, but don’t overdo it. Keep yourself informed on any topic that you contribute to, and keep your messages short and concise.
One final protip, be cautious of the “reply all” button. Never be too eager to hit send before you realize who will be receiving your message.