Five Strategies for Perfecting Your Emails
Have you ever spent what felt like hours crafting the perfect detailed and comprehensive email, only to receive a brief and unhelpful response? Have you ever felt drained by long and unproductive email exchanges? Emails are one of the most common forms of communication within the academia and beyond, but they are not safe from pitfalls. In today’s blog post, we will discuss five useful strategies for mastering the etiquette of drafting a professional email, as highlighted in our workshop Professional Writing: Emails, Executive Summaries and Briefing Notes.
1. Make it actionable
Think of the last time you felt frustrated when searching through your inbox. You spent precious minutes opening email after email and sifting through long paragraphs of text – fruitlessly digging for this one “important piece of information.” This scenario is a common problem but luckily it’s preventable.
Start with a clear & short subject line that communicates exactly what the content is about. For example, instead of writing “Meeting Minutes,” a much better alternative would be “Minutes of Project X Meeting on Feb. 28.” Then, in the email body, directly state your purpose and any actions you need the recipient to take. Don’t forget to add specific due dates for each request. Last, keep in mind keywords that your recipients might use when trying to search for your email.
2. Make it brief
Did you know that the average email gets read in only 20 seconds? Even if you state a clear request, it might still get missed if accompanied by a lot of irrelevant information. To get your message across more effectively, keep the email body short and to the point. “Any email should not be more than 5-10 sentences,” recommends Ms. Kristy Clarke, workshop leader and Coordinator for GradProSkills. For example, instead of crafting a long thank-you paragraph, move straight to the point: “It was nice to meet you. As discussed, I am following up with you about topic A.” But what if you have non-essential; yet, still useful information to share? “You can always include it as an attachment or a link” suggests Ms. Clarke.
3. Make it scannable
It addition to being brief, a good email body must also be scannable. After all, you want your message to get across in only 20 seconds. Useful strategies for improving scannability include chunking your email into brief paragraphs, 2-3 lines each, and including bullet points whenever possible. Also, don’t forget to bold or otherwise highlight important keywords such as dates and locations. Be careful using images and tables that might not display depending on the readers device, email platform or internet connection. Ensure your email can be understood in the absence of these images and tables.
4. Make it efficient
Good emails not only highlight the sender’s request but also provide efficient means for recipients to accomplish it. For example, always propose options instead of asking open-ended questions. If you are setting up a meeting, provide a few timeslots and ask the recipient to pick one. If you opt for the more general: “When do you want to meet?” you might set yourself up for a lengthy and much less efficient email exchange. Need to set up a meeting for a large group of people? No worries. There is a useful tool, called Doodle, that can help you tackle this issue with ease.
Also, never mix multiple, unrelated topics in the same email, especially if they have different timelines and audiences. This makes it hard for your recipients to properly respond to your email. You risk one topic being addressed and the others being lost.
5. Make it professional
Finally, good emails allow you to make a positive impression. Never respond to an email while angry, emotional or tired and always proofread your text before clicking send. If an email sparks an emotion, don’t respond straight away. There is a good chance that an email response is not the best response. It may be better to request a meeting, pick up the phone or discuss with your manager. Similarly, don’t rush to send an email at midnight. Write a draft and reread it in the morning. It’s highly unlikely the recipients would have responded to you in the middle of the night. Better to reread it when you are fresh and make sure your message is clear before sending. Last, go easy on exclamation points, acronyms, emojis, and jargons to avoid issues due to miscommunication.
If you want to learn more tips and tricks for effective professional communication, sign up for our workshop Professional Writing: Emails, Executive Summaries and Briefing Notes. Happy emailing!