It happened again. You receive an urgent email from a client with !!HELP!! in the subject line and a big red exclamation point that immediately sets your heart and brain racing. What problem is this going to bring to my day? After reading the message, you’re left with more questions than answers, or sometimes just one question: what is this person talking about?
How can it be that email — the most common form of business communication on the planet — is so often poorly implemented, and how can you be a better email communicator?
First of all, email is not always the best way to communicate. Consider using other methods in these cases:
If your message is complicated and could benefit from live, in-person explanation. It’s often easier and more time-efficient to simply talk to someone rather than try to organize your thoughts and put them into words. Face-to-face communication also allows for body-language and emotional cues that email will never emulate.
If you want to keep the conversation confidential. Even encrypted emails should not be considered totally private. Your message can travel through hundreds of points along the internet before reaching its destination, any of which could be vulnerable to a security breach.
If your message would benefit from immediate feedback. Sometimes, a message contains many points that depend on responses from the recipient before you can take the next step. This might be good time to consider an in-person meeting, a phone call or a video call. At adWhite, we’re big fans of Zoom. It makes video calls and screen sharing easy.
But if you have to send an email, how can you take the lead and be a better communicator? Here are a few tips:
- Start with an appropriate subject.
The subject of your email is the first thing your reader sees, and it can make a big impression. We all get hundreds of messages a day, so the more appropriate the subject line, the better it will be received and remembered. For example, if you’re sending an email with specific website changes, label it as “Changes to the contact form,” rather than just “Website.”
- Write clearly and simply.
Assume that the reader has no idea what you’re talking about, especially for a new task. You may have a project on your desk that you’ve been looking at for hours or days, but it may be totally new to the person you’re communicating with. Write short, clear sentences and paragraphs.
- Get to the point.
In business communication, the most important ideas are these: what needs to be done, and when does it need to be completed? Most of the time, you don’t need to give a vendor a full backstory of how this happened and that happened, which caused another thing to happen and that’s why we need you to change this one thing because something else will need to happen that you don’t have control over, maybe next week. Do you see how the one thing you need to do is buried in that sentence? Be clear about what you need from the person you’re emailing; don’t make them search for it.
- Don’t just say it, show it.
Screen shots are a great way to illustrate a point in an email. You can send an entire descriptive paragraph, or you can attach a simple annotated screen shot. Learn how to make screen shots your new best friend on Windows or on a Mac.
- Read it before you send it.
Running spell check is good, but actually reading your entire email before you hit send is even better. Does it make sense? If you were reading it for the first time, would you understand what you’re telling your reader or asking him to do? Make sure it’s clear and concise. Break up long paragraphs or add bullets or color to help with comprehension.
- Save it for later.
If possible, don’t send the message right away. Some email programs allow you to schedule a draft to be sent later. How many times after you’ve sent an email did you think of something else you should have said — or just a better way to say it? Delaying the email by an hour buys you time to improve your message.
By implementing even a few of these best practices, you can improve the comprehension of your email messages and most likely get the response you actually want (plus make your recipient's job a little easier)!