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Writing Email
Illustration by Neil Webb

Using direct openings


From:

Writing Email

with Judy Steiner-Williams

Video: Using direct openings

Email is most often the channel selected for short direct messages.

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Writing Email
1h 13m Appropriate for all Apr 01, 2014

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Discover the secrets to writing powerful emails your colleagues will read and answer by crafting your message and delivery. In this short course, author and business writing professor Judy Steiner-Williams shows you how to write emails for maximum readability and impact. Discover how to craft a compelling opening, how to message the right people at the right time, and how to leverage etiquette to use email as one of many communications tools.

Topics include:
  • Using email as a communication tool
  • Understanding the right time and the right tone to strike
  • Crafting strong subject lines and messages
  • Respecting confidentiality
  • Copying and bcc'ing
  • Including attachments
Subjects:
Business Business Skills Career Development Writing Communication
Author:
Judy Steiner-Williams

Using direct openings

Email is most often the channel selected for short direct messages. If the subject line identifies your message as providing necessary or positive information, that reader expects to receive that information immediately in the email. If the email opening does not give the information the reader wanted or expected, she may become frustrated and may not continue reading. Look at this example. If the subject line said, Updated Vacation Policy,Two Additional Days. The reader would eagerly open the email expecting to find the updated policy.

But what if this is the message the reader sees. Several of you have complained about not having enough vacation days and that you are experiencing job burnout. Morale at our company seems to be at an all-time low. We tried different things to try to improve that but absenteeism continues to be a problem. This was not what your reader expected. The opening paragraph is not direct and the reader may even be skeptical about the subject line and it's definitely asking. What happened to those two extra vacation days? The reader will most likely continue to scan that message, looking for the good news, but the initial excited reaction is no longer there.

But what if, on the other hand, the reader eagerly begins to read and this is the message. Our company vacation policy has been expanded to include two floating vacation days. Every employee will have his or her birthday off, and one Friday off every third month on a rotation basis. That's a positive direct message. That's the information the reader wanted and expected based on the subject line. Of course, not all email messages are as exciting as learning that you get two added vacation days.

Regardless of the messages content, the opening should state your purpose for writing the message and provide a context for the message. This example subject line identifies the message's purpose as one that you need to read, but not the specifics. Revisions needed for year end report. This reader will realize that the report that he sent last week needs to be revised, which is not good news. He also knows that he needs to do something and that revisions will probably need to be completed soon. So, that is the information that needs to be included in a direct opening.

Let's compare these two openings. Thanks Jack for submitting your report on time. I've read through the entire report. In some areas you've included redundant information and in others the information in incomplete. Some of your sections seemed to be out of sequence. So you need to take care of that. Hope to see you at the intramural basketball game Saturday. Jack is confused. He knows that changes need to be made, but he has given no specific direction and no time by which he needs to submit the revised report.

And probably the last thing he's concerned about right now is the basketball game, which has nothing to do with the purpose of this email message. So let's look at this opening for the same situation. Thanks Jack for submitting your report on time. After reading through the entire report, I suggest you do the following and have the revised report to me by end of day Friday. Switch sections two and three, add specific numbers to section four and check sections two and five. Some of the same data are included in both.

This version is direct, gives Jack the specifics that he needs, including the resubmission date. Direct openings are important. They save their readers time. They help to ensure that your reader has a more positive reaction and they provide the necessary information.

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