The average American worker’s inbox is flooded with more emails now than ever, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to prioritize which emails require attention first, after filtering out all of the Spam. I’ve learned through trial and error that there are a few Dos and Don’ts that should be followed in order to ensure that emails will be read and will garner the desired response for the intended recipient.
Mind your Tos, CCs and BCCs. To ensure your email will be read and you will get the action or response you require, you must first start with the recipient. Be sure you are sending it to the correct person and that only one person is on the “To” line. Why? Because when we are busy and receive and email directed at more than one person, we tend to put it off thinking that someone else will respond, but in actuality, no one does. If you are unsure as to the right person to address, take your best shot and then add a disclaimer at the end, something to the effect of “If you are not the correct person, please let me know who is.” Also be mindful to copy those who are necessary and only those who are necessary. And if this is a sensitive subject, avoid the email altogether, see our blog “5-signs-its-time-to-stop-typing-and-pick-up-the-phone” for pointers on how to decide to make a call instead of sending an email. You could inadvertently embarrass someone by copying their boss. Similarly, use blind copy sparingly. If you want someone to know o f the discussion privately, you could forward the email under separate cover or better yet, discuss it personally. The person to whom you directed the email could later find out you blind copied someone else and could see that action as sneaky or underhanded.
Format the email properly. A good way to ensure your recipient knows you are directing the email to them is to use his or her name. Email does not require the formality of a business letter, but does require more formality than a text message. A simple “John,” is an excellent way to start an email. Tap into what you learned from first grade through graduate school and remember to write complete sentences and break paragraphs when necessary. Use a signature on all emails, replies and forwards so your recipient never has to search to find your contact information if they want to call you.
Start with a pleasantry. The type of pleasantry will depend greatly upon how well you know the recipient. Your email is almost guaranteed to be well received if you give someone the warm and fuzzies before you get down to business. Keep it short and sweet though, no more than two sentences.
Write professionally, but don’t get too academic. There is a fine line to walk here, you want your recipient to know that you are an intelligent professional, but you don’t want to come across as an intellectual elitist. A good rule of thumb is to keep away from slang as much as possible. If you must have a friendly and joking conversation, it is best to do so over the phone or in person. Another rule of thumb would be to steer away from words you would not hear on the evening news. Your recipient may be offended if they have to use the dictionary to get through your email.
Use bullet points. If you are listing items, giving options or discussing more than two things, consider using bullet points. This breaks up the email, making it seem shorter.
Give a call to action. If you need the recipient to do something, let them know, make it clear and concise and leave it to the end of the email. You’d be surprised — unless you say “please get back to me”, they might not.
Use the “Important” button sparingly. If every email you send is of “high importance”, your recipient will get annoyed and start placing all of your emails at the bottom of the pile. It’s like the boy who cried wolf — leave that button for true emergencies only and you’ll improve your response rate.
Hit send when you are still angry. If you have to wait a few minutes or even until the next morning to respond, it is far better than sending something you later want to recall. No one wants to read an email that is essentially you yelling at or berating them.
Use “creative” formatting. Fun fonts, colors, cool backgrounds, and cute graphics do have a place in email — your personal email. Your mom or best friend will think nothing less of you if you send an email written in pink scripty font with cats all over it, but your clients and your boss will. Choose a conservative font like Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica, etc. Use a readable size, like 10 to 12 pt. Write in black on a white background. Keep your signature to the basics: name, company, title, phone, fax, email.
Write the way you (or your kids) would text. This is the contrast to the point above about writing professionally. In a customer service environment, it is easy to feel chummy with clients and want to drop some of the formalities, but we have to remember that this is a business relationship. Drop the “whom” and “Dear”, but always write in proper English.
Forget to proofread. Adding to the point about writing in proper English, always proof read your emails before sending. Outlook and Word do this automatically, so there is no excuse for sending emails riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.
Take a fresh look at your email style and ask yourself — if you received that email in a business setting, would you read and respond? If not, it’s time to make some changes; you’ll improve your communication over all.