E-mail is the most frequently used communications tool in today's business world. Unfortunately, it is also the most ineffective way of communicating in many situations. And when e-mail is the communication of choice, it is written poorly and ineffectively.
E-mail does have its advantages. It is quick, easy, and inexpensive. However, e-mail lacks the cues that help us communicate successfully in other ways. E-mail does not convey body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions. And forget humor or sarcasm. They do not come across in e-mail and often end up offending someone, instead of giving them a good laugh.
Here are a few tips for writing email that is effective and professional.
1. Follow basic rules of good business writing
E-mail is like any other document you create. Write in full sentences. Use correct grammar. Spell and punctuate everything correctly. The professionalism of your messages reflects directly upon you.
2. Put something useful in your subject line
Make your subject line work like a headline for your message. Have it say something specific. "Monday meeting canceled" or "Ordered food for Monday meeting?"
3. Put your most important information on top
Putting your bottom line up front is even more important to e-mail than it is with anything else you write. You can not assume that your reader is going to read your entire message. Keep your paragraphs short and use bullets to help your reader find important information.
4. Highlight action items
If you need your reader to do something, highlight that information up front. Do not bury it in the middle of a paragraph or at the end. For example, after your greeting, you might put a line that says: "Action items for Jim and Mary are detailed below." Let your reader know immediately if you need him to do something.
5. Do not routinely "reply to all"
Does your reply really need to go to everyone on the cc: list? People are overwhelmed with e-mail. Only send the reply to those who need it.
Call your reader or better yet, go talk to them in person
If you find that your exchange with your reader is not going well, stop using e-mail. Things will only continue to sour. Instead, pick up the phone or talk to your reader face-to-face.