6 tips for writing effective emails

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Tips to keep your writing simple
Tips to keep your writing simple

6 ideas for sending efficient e-mail communications to your team.

I recently read a post on the AMA Style Insider blog called “Say It Small.” In it, the author argues the case for making one's messages more efficient. (The article also makes me wonder if Ernest Hemingway was the prototypical Twitter user—the post begins with a 6-word Hemingway story. Can't get much briefer than that!)

How can you embrace an ethic of saying what you mean, without unnecessary extras? Here are 6 tips:

  1. Lead with a descriptive subject line. Prime your readers for what your e-mail will be about by being detailed in your subject line. If you are sending files, updating on a project, correcting erroneous information you shared, or asking for help from someone, say so (and be clear as to which project you are referring).
  2. Start with your point first. This may sound obvious, but it's easy to get tempted to provide background information on your question or comment first, before getting to the heart of the matter. Resist that temptation and keep your audience on task from the start.
  3. Use bullets and line breaks. If you have to send an e-mail covering multiple issues or providing a series of steps for completing a task, help your audience to digest your communiqué more easily by breaking it up into chunks. Rather than “data dumping” in a paragraph, use a bulleted or numbered list to make your points less visually intimidating.
  4. Let your e-mail chain content do the talking. Rather than rehash an issue that's been simmering for a while via e-mail, you can direct your reader to the pertinent part of the e-mail chain, enabling him or her to read the important question or comment in the stakeholder's own words.
  5. Save your reporting for the big news. This is one that I am particularly guilty of. In resolving a time-sensitive issue, you may feel the urge to give a play-by-play account of the steps you're taking to rectify a situation, but your teammates only care about the final result. Unless it's taking you an unexpectedly long time to get a response or to procure the resource that your team needs, keep this kind of communication to a minimum.
  6. Follow through on follow-up. If you can't focus your attention on an issue immediately, or can only partially remedy a situation, make it clear to your audience that more information will be forthcoming. And then be sure to provide that information. Alert your team if your delay will be longer than you expected.

And remember to perform a quick, last-minute editorial check before you hit send!

Every employee who touches a brand launch is moving at the speed of light, juggling a dizzying array of tasks to make the launch a reality. Because of this, any communication—written or oral—needs to be clear, concise, and decisive (or unmistakable in relaying that an answer will take more time). Think of the kinds of e-mails you like to receive, and you'll have your guidance for how to make the missives you send more readable.

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