Tips For More Effective Email Communication

By David Friedman

A recent report estimated that over seven trillion emails were sent worldwide last year. Spam messages are jamming in-boxes across the globe and the average office worker now gets between 60 and 200 messages a day. While no one denies the obvious productivity gains we’ve realized from the efficiencies of email communication, many people find themselves drowning in all these messages. Here are eight tips that will make your email communications more effective.

1. Practice being clear and concise with your message. You’ll save time and your reader will appreciate it. Consider using bulleted points to clearly express your thoughts. Everyone has a different style of how they intake information. Email communication works best if you clearly outline the points you’re trying to get across in an easy to understand format.

Investing extra time while authoring an email can pay big dividends later by helping your reader to clearly understand your message. Remember, if your email is written with the purpose to educate, inform, or persuade, then making sure to get your point across is even more critical.

With the sheer volume of email messages most business people receive, there’s an inverse relationship between the volume of text and successfully making the point. Most people will immediately read and understand a ten sentence email. Send them a 10,000-word document and they’ll likely scan the highlights, save it for later, and forget to read it fully. People appreciate brevity.

2. Before sending, always reread your message and double check for grammar and misused words. It’s obvious to most of us to use spell check after we’ve composed our message. You should also make it standard procedure to reread your entire message before sending. Often times, you’ll notice words which have been left out, grammar that’s incorrect, and worst of all – words witch our spilled write butt knot used inn the write weigh. (Note that this last sentence runs through a spell checker perfectly.)

3. Copy back salient points when replying to an earlier message. Most people receive hundreds of emails every week. When you combine that with face-to-face meetings and phone calls, it’s dangerous to assume that your recipient will remember your earlier exchange. It’s frustrating when someone sends you an email with a specific answer to something, but you’re unable to recall the original issue. This problem is largely avoidable by copying a portion of the original message alluding to the context.

4. Use specific subject line descriptions. Since many email messages go back and forth several times over the course of many weeks, it’s important to accurately describe what the reader will find inside.

Considering the level of spam and anti-spam software in place today, you can’t afford to risk your message not being delivered because of a generic or poorly worded subject line. A subject line such as, “What do you think?” doesn’t tell the recipient much. Remember, a legitimate message with a thoughtlessly worded subject is unlikely to make it past today’s spam filters.

5. Realize that once your message is sent, there’s no getting it back: People can literally ruin their career with a single 60-second lapse in judgment, by sending the wrong message to someone. Email is also ridiculously easy to edit and forward. Keep in mind that sending a message to one person can eventually be viewed by many other unintended parties. Always double-check the recipient line before sending any email.

It’s a good idea to never put anything in writing that a reasonable person would consider to be confidential or that might introduce potential liability. If your situation dictates you email such information, try to word your message in as factual and balanced a way as possible.

6. Practice the 24-hour rule when you’re upset: It’s never a good idea to send an email when you’re angry. If you compose an email in anger, wait a predetermined period of time before sending it. If your emotions are legit, then your issue will still be there tomorrow. But in 95% of the cases, you’ll be glad you waited and toned things down after you’ve gained the perspective that can only come with some additional time.

7. Avoid shortcuts and abbreviations: Anyone with a teenager knows you practically need a CIA decoder chart to understand the abbreviations and shortcuts that are popular in email, pagers, text messages, and instant messages. These cutesy short cuts and misspellings are ill advised to use in any corporate context, no matter if your customer is external or internal. Even common shortcuts like LOL (laughing out loud), BRB (be right back), 2 (to), and u r (you are) are simply too casual for most business communication. What’s hip to the sender can be flip to the reader. Since a casual message to a coworker could easily be forwarded, it’s best to practice the same high level of professionalism in all your email messages, no matter whom you’re writing to.

8. Don’t Forward Viral Messages: Everyday, intelligent people who would never consider themselves gullible forward on hoax messages about:

  • Pending Congressional taxes on emails.
  • Avoiding waking up in a hotel bathtub of ice, minus your kidneys.
  • Easy steps for getting some of Bill Gates/Disney/AOL’s money.
  • How to delete viruses from your pc (which are actually legitimate files your system needs).
  • Child abductions at giant retailers.
  • A widow from Zimbabwe begging you to look after her $18,000,000 if you’ll just give her your bank account number.

The list goes on. If you are the recipient of an email message you think is relevant to your friends and family, run it by this test: Copy and paste a few key words from the message into Google.comTM along with the word “hoax”. If the returns come back showing articles claiming the message is a fake, save everyone in your address book some time by hitting the delete key. The same rule applies to jokes and pictures which would be deemed as inappropriate by your employer.

While there may not be a silver bullet that saves us from an onslaught of never ending messages, common sense practices can make our business email correspondence more effective and productive every working day.

David Friedman is Vice President and General Manager of Telephone Doctor, a training company that helps organizations improve the way they communicate with customers. For information call 314-291-1012 or visit www.telephonedoctor.com.

[From Connection Magazine September 2005]

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