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Composing an e-mail to suit your audience is a vital part of communicating your message. If your e-mail is unpleasant to read, hard to find, or lost among a sea of other e-mails, you will have wasted your time and not accomplished your goal. Further, e-mail is a one-way medium. When writing, we cannot see or hear the recipients, which is vastly different that the telephone or being face to face. To help overcome this, here are my top 10 tips for e-mail netiquette. On the left is the poor example, and on the right you'll find the improved one. Number one, make subject lines meaningful.
Make sure your subject lines are useful, uniquely describing the contents of the message. "Our meeting" is not a good subject line; neither is "attached," as we can see on the left. But the 2011 Northern California - Budget and Goals (Draft), that is. A well-written subject line will be easier to find if you need it later. It will certainly speed up searches, and if somebody is scanning through their Inbox, they will find their message a lot faster. Number two, avoid misinterpretation.
Consider the following statements when read with emotion. "Of course, I will do that for you. I have plenty of free time," or "I can't believe you did that," or "how do you think you are going to accomplish that," or "she said, I did what?". Now consider how emotion and tone are lost when you can't hear someone's voice, and that's the case with e-mail. Of course, I will do that for you. I have plenty of free time. I can't believe you did that. How do you think you are going to accomplish that? She said I did what? Each of these become open to interpretation from the reader, and that can cause a communications breakdown when the message is important. Number three, make instructions as clear as possible.
If you're writing a memo with instructions, such as steps on a computer or a way to complete a form, you should always be as clear as possible. To minimize questions, take the extra time to compose a thorough e-mail that's clear, well formatted, and answers any questions that may arise in the process. Number four, state your expectations. Because e-mail is a one-way form of communication, it's not convenient for your recipient to ask you to be more specific. So little questions might go unasked, and you may regret the result.
If you need something done by a specific dates, state that in your e-mail as well. Then I ask them if they can have your request complete by that time or not. Number five, use short paragraphs. Write your e-mails like journalists write their articles: paragraphs are short, words are simple, and ideas flow quickly from one paragraph to the next. No one has hours to read their e-mail every morning. Number six, write for the lowest denominator. If you're writing an e-mail to a large audience, remember that everyone has varying levels of knowledge on the topic at hand.
Without boring your experienced readers, be sure to provide enough information for your readers who are still learning. The most common problem with this is acronyms and abbreviations. If you use them, make sure you know that your audience understands what they stand for. If not, spell them out or use parenthesis and explain them. Number seven, what you say is written in stone. Remember that e-mails are permanent documents that can be used against you, or your company, if someone felt the need. It only takes a click to print an e-mail to paper, and forwarding e-mails to other people is easy.
So avoid unnecessary headaches and don't write an e-mail that will come back to haunt you. Number 8, e-mail is not urgent. Because e-mail is so fast, people often forget that it's not reliable for urgent communication. If you need someone to do something right away, pick up the phone or walk to their desk and tell them in person. Not only will your message be received, but they will understand the urgency far better than an e-mail with "ASAP" or a red exclamation point. Number nine, beware of the recipients.
Sending an e-mail is easy, and we often get in the habit of not double-checking things before hitting Send. Always make sure that your recipient is the right person and not someone else from your address book. And don't accidentally hit Reply to all when you're directing the message at only one person. Number ten, planning meetings. While you could use an e-mail to plan a meeting with your coworkers, a more efficient way is to create an appointment from the calendar and invite them to it. This gives you the added advantage of being able to see their schedule and find a time that's available for everyone involved.
Further, your invitees can accept the appointment and have it automatically added to their calendar on the right day and time, with the notes you've provided. And there you have it, ten ways to stay out of trouble and help others in the process. Now, if you are a supervisor or a manager, I've got six more tips just for you. Check out the next video!
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