Writing Effective E-Mail: Top 10 Tips

I’m a big proponent of not reinventing the wheel, so when a client recently asked me to help them with their current “e-mail overload”, I knew from experience that the most effective thing to do would be to (1) Google the subject, (2) pick the most relevant post, and (3) comment my recommendations based on what I’ve experienced as the biggest challenge this, or most any other organization is having.

To start, I chose to leverage the post Writing Effective E-Mails by Dennis G. Jerz, and before I reference his Top 10 tips, I would like to add a pre-qualifier in consideration of today’s age of social media tools. Make sure it’s relevant to the recipient (even when in copy)!!

The moral to this story, is that before you start typing someone’s name to include (directly or indirectly via “cc & bcc”) them on an e-mail, (STOP) you must consider what is the direct relevance to that specific person.

Do you expect that person to take an action? If so, you must state that action within the first 5 lines of the e-mail. In an e-mail where multiple people need to take action, you must break up the e-mail into multiple paragraphs, each of which must commence with, for example, “@Lucas” or “@José Manuel”, followed by the specific action you want him to take. Now, when Lucas or José Manuel, two very busy CEO’s of a hyper-growth entrepreneurial venture, receive an e-mail in which they are copied, they will be able to skip directly to the relevant area they need to action, and it will be their choice whether to scan the rest of the e-mail for information they deem relevant to their work. that is both effective for you, who will get an answer or required action that much faster, and them :-) That’s called a “win/win” situation ;-)

Many of us, especially “baby boom” & younger generations have a mass mailing & information overload mentality! For us, MORE (information) is better. What’s worse, is that we have the audacity, consciously or unconsciously, to decide on behalf of our recipients that they should create filters, automated or not, to determine whether what we BROADCAST is relevant to them and/or their work. In addition to being presumptuous of us, it is on the verge of rude, not to mention highly ineffective (wastes valuable time)! If you want to BROADCAST,  use tools like Yammer (within your organization) and Twitter (outside your organization).

  1. Write a meaningful subject line.
  2. Keep the message focused and readable.(!Again.. remember recipient(s) relevance & if not sure, DON’T “copy”!)
  3. Avoid attachments.
  4. Identify yourself clearly.
  5. Be kind — don’t flame. (!!) My own greatest lesson learned over the years (!!)
  6. Proofread.
  7. Don’t assume privacy.
  8. Distinguish between formal and informal situations.
  9. Respond Promptly. (i.e. respect your audience, just as you would expect to be treated)
  10. Show Respect and Restraint.

Indeed broadcast tools like Yammer & Twitter no longer make it justifiable to copy “everyone” on an e-mail that isn’t directly actionable by the recipient. If you want to share a joke, use your Facebook Wall, Company Intranet (if approved), any other host of services that are already in existence.

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