I hope you have read my post about how to write better reports and as a result, how to make your life and your readers’ lives better. This time I am going to tackle e-mail writing. Not everybody writes reports. However, people who are not flooded by emails are hard to find in any workplace. So improving your e-mail writing skills might give you faster returns, since you are going to use it from day one.
So what makes great e-mails? In a professional, corporate environment, e-mails perform several functions:
- They transport information. I mean, that is why we send e-mails right? To tell each other things.
- The advantage of this over speaking is that unless you are recording the conversation or there are witnesses to it, it is gone with the wind.
- Therefore an e-mail can be used as a reminder, as storage for information that has been received – or sent! (Did I send you that… let me check my sent-messages folder… oh crap it is in the out-box.)
- You do business through them: you buy from your suppliers, you sell to your clients, you send and receive bills… you make money! And if your emails are not up to the task, sometimes, you lose money.
So how can I write better e-mails?
Establish routines, for your e-mails to be more efficient (and manageable!) find a system, a protocol that works for you. Priorities first. My suggestion is to go with the WH- words, quickly brainstorming for potentially risky aspects.
Who wrote it (or who is writing it!)
If you have received an e-mail and plan to write back, you have to consider who is it that is writing: is it a client or a supplier, is it a routine marketing promotional message or is it a message from the CEO of a big multinational? If you are writing it, you must not forget who you represent and what you stand for. Specially if you are the CEO!
Who will receive it.
Anything said about writing it applies to the receiving end. You must apply whatever you know about the receiver and if you do not know much – or anything – about them, you must be businesslike and respectful. There is always time to relax your manners, but not until you see the other part gives you signals that you can do it.
What the e-mail is about.
This is different from the reason you are writing: if you are writing concerning a shipment it could be for many different reasons, but if it is a shipment, you should not forget the reference of the shipment! So it is not the same discussing things with a prospective client than with a client you have been dealing with and with whom you see eye to eye.
The reason for writing.
Is it business as usual, a reasonable request or an urgent demand that debt be paid? So the tone of the message changes.
When has it been written.
Is it urgent, or am I writing ahead of time? is a deadline about to be met or are you past the deadline?
Where is it being written (to and from).
This above all is a matter of cultural issues when there is a potential for misunderstanding because you and your correspondent have different cultural backgrounds.
What expectations do either side have?
Are you hoping to make this person or company a new client? Are you trying to put out a fire and solve a conflict? or is it the confirmation of something being received?
What about the structure of e-mails? A common pitfall, specially if many e-mails are written internally to colleagues within the company is to drop the protocol. However that kind of problem pales in comparison with the faces people can pull when they receive an email whose body simply does not make sense. People want to read an e-mail. If they have to make an effort to decipher what you are saying, that is bad for your business.
How can I make sure my message gets clearly across? Once more, if you have read my post about reports, you can guess much of the advice suggested for reports can be scaled down to e-mail writing: planning, organization, keeping a cool head and not jumping directly to writing whatever crosses our mind.
In a way it is easier to reply to an email, because it is just a matter of reacting: answering questions, requests. They ask, we answer. However real life is messy and a request for information about a specific product could be the perfect chance to point out another in passing.
Whatever you have in mind, paragraphs are your best friends: if the email covers more than one topic or that topic is complex, break it down in paragraphs. Each paragraph should be internally coherent around a main concept. This makes for easier reference if anybody needs to go back to it and look for something specific. Nobody likes to look for a needle in a haystack. Therefore if paragraphs follow a logical sequence, if their content is internally coherent and if sentences are well structured and connected with each other, your emails will be received with pleasure, even if they are bad news.
Questions, doubts? Feel free to leave your comments below or contact here.