Most of us will recognize a situation in which we receive an email from an associate or colleague that leaves us with multiple questions. The email is vague, has a subject line like “I have a question …” and isn’t clear about what is being asked of you.
Let’s face it: technology has made us a bit lazy. We’re so obsessed with the speed with which we can contact others and get quick answers that being clear, polite and considerate of the recipient falls by the wayside.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for getting a lot more done in a day than it used to take. Email, Twitter and even texting have clear benefits. But the 140 characters used for Twitter isn’t always the best way to handle an email, particularly where business is concerned.
Most offices prefer that their employees communicate in a highly professional manner. Let’s examine some of my recommendations for extending consideration and proper courtesy to clients and co-workers alike.
» Before you even write an email, decide whether what you have to say would be better delivered by a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting. Email should never be used to avoid a difficult situation or a problem that needs to be discussed.
» Be concise (not 140 characters) but cover the topic in an efficient manner.
» Use proper grammar and punctuation.
» Because people are busy, they tend to scan emails. So always put the most important information in the first paragraph.
» When replying, always answer all questions thoroughly to avoid back and forth conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to ask for clarification for both questions and responses sent to me.
» Re-read your entire email before sending it. Check your grammar, spelling and thoroughness. See if you can avoid answering in a convoluted manner. Make it thorough but succinct.
» Structurally, set your email up like a business letter. That means it should have an introductory sentence and acceptable paragraph lengths.
» Avoid abbreviations and emoticons. Save them for text messaging to a friend.
» Don’t shout at the addressee. In other words, don’t write in all capital letters. And, don’t use all lowercase text.
» Only use the “highly important” options when what you are sending is urgent or a priority. If you mark everything as such, people will stop believing you!
» Make sure that your subject lines are very specific.
» Use a signature block on all correspondence so the person to whom you are writing will have all your contact information, including your full name, title, company name, phone number, email address and company Web site address. This makes finding your information much easier for the person receiving the message.
» Create a distribution mailing list so that the name of the list will appear in the “to” field instead of the names of everyone receiving the list.
» Don’t overload people. Don’t “Reply to All” if you only need to respond to the sender.
» Write separate emails for separate topics.
» Don’t request read or delivery receipts for every email.
» Never forward chain letters, jokes or nonbusiness email. Most employers prefer that you not do so.
» Don’t forward confidential information out of respect for the sender.
» Never forward an attachment without the original sender’s permission.
When you review these, you’ll realize you are only making it easier for the addressee to understand your needs and respond accordingly. No matter whether you are sending an email or replying to one, these rules apply.
What’s More, On Video
How to write proper emails.
— John Daly is the founder and president of The Key Class, the go-to guide for job search success. Click here to learn more about The Key Class or get information on Thursday night classes in Santa Barbara. Connect with The Key Class on Facebook. Follow John Daly on Twitter: @johndalyjr. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.