Emails: 10 Essential Do’s and 10 Hazardous Don’ts

Depending on which study you read, U.S. employees spend 25–90% of their workday reading and writing emails. Your ability to do so, in a positive manner, reflects not only your competence, but also your knowledge, effectiveness, personality, assertiveness, writing skills, respect for others, legal documentation, etc. This list goes on and on. Given that its crucial role is productivity, it is important that every email you write be a good one. Yes, every single email. After all, it lives forever…This blog is written as if it were an email.

TO: Everyone

FROM: Julie Kantor

SUBJECT: FYI: 10 Tips to write effective emails.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dear Mr., Ms., or Dr. Reader:

The purpose of this blog is to educate you about email use.

You can save it for reference in the future.

EMAIL ESSENTIALS: DO’S

  1. Legal Document
Remember your company can read, and print, all emails.
Emails last forever.
All emails are legal documents.

2. Length

Emails should be short and to the point.
If you want it all read, only write a little.

3. Subject line

Subject lines should be specific about topic or action required; ideally both.
Define what you need. E.g. “Decision about x” or “FYI” (All you need is for them to read it).
Follow a general phrase with a specific reference (E.g. “Following up: Performance Review Meeting”).

4. To, Cc, and Bcc line

To: People who need to read and act upon email.
Cc: People who may want the information. No action is required of them.
Bcc: Should be used sparingly.

5. Recipient’s needs

Consider if the needs of the recipient are different than yours.
In general, people more senior to you want only top level emails.
If you are unsure of recipient’s need, or level of desired email, ask them.

6. Easy to follow

Write in outline or PowerPoint form.
Use headings, bullets, numbers, and letters.
Bold items of importance.
Reader should be able to scan to items of importance.

7. Use Power Phrases

Power Phrases are call to action or request for recipient to do something.
E.g. “The purpose of this email is…[intent]” or “Please do x [action]” or “ Please contact me at…”

8. Grammar and punctuation

Spell check and proofread the document. Always.
Use proper grammar, including capital letters and periods when necessary.

9. Tone:

Consider degree of formality.
This is important especially if email has contentious or sensitive content.

10. Worth repeating: Emails are legal documents and should be short.

EMAIL HAZARDS: DON’TS

  1. Legal Document: Don’t write information that is inappropriate or incriminating.
  2. Length: Don’t write paragraphs that are longer than three sentences, unless absolutely necessary.
  3. Subject line: Don’t leave subject blank or write general phrase without specific reference (e.g. “Thanks”).
  4. To, Cc, Bcc: Don’t add people who don’t really need to be on email.
  5. Recipient’s needs: Don’t write email just to fulfill your need.
  6. Easy to follow: Don’t write unorganized, verbose email.
  7. Power Phrase: Don’t write Power Phrases that have a hostile or overly demanding tone.
  8. Grammar and punctuation: Don’t write in ALL CAPS unless you want to communicate that you’re yelling.
  9. Tone: Don’t write contentious or sensitive content.
  10. Worth repeating: Don’t write inappropriate, incriminating, or long emails.

And if I wrote this properly, you are actually reading this sentence. And hopefully you were able to easily scan the blog and take away the points that were relevant to you.

For more information about Julie P. Kantor, PhD and the business consulting services provided by JP Kantor Consulting, visit www.JPKantor.com.


Originally published at jpkantor.com on March 24, 2016.

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