March 27, 2006

Email Tips

For Project Managers, the email writing has become a source of bread and butter and has changed the way business takes place. Typical day of anyone involved in a project team starts with emails reading and then crafting an response to convey the right message.

There have been numerous occasions when a poorly drafted email failed to convey what it was intended to convey.

I have also seen fairly good number of cases when a major misunderstanding was averted using right combination of words and a fairly good email structure. While most of the email communication depends on the individual capabilities but there are some points which, I think can be taken care of while writing an email.

I have referred to some literature on email writing and I have put some ideas of my own and compiled the following points which are must while writing an email in business scenario.

1. Keep a meaningful subject line
Use a subject that is meaningful to the recipient as well as yours. Recipients scan the subject line in order to decide whether to open, forward, file, or trash a message. Remember -- your message is not the only one in your recipient's mailbox.

2. Spell check, punctuation and grammar
Almost all of the email client messages we use, helps us in identifying some of the obvious mistakes in spellings, punctuations and grammar. And mistake in the above parameters reflects badly on your abilities and your organization’s capacities.

3. Concise Emails
You want your email to convey the right message. A long email message is difficult to read and assimilate. It will discourage the intended readers from reading it completely.

4. Do not write long sentences and paragraphs
Email is meant for quick and precise communication. It’s always advisable to keep your paragraphs size to 4-5 sentences and the sentences to 15-20 words. Understand that writing and email is different then writing a letter.

5. Do not add multiple topics
If you want to address more than one topic in one email then assume that your message will not go correctly. Restrict your email to one topic with a proper subject line. Keep your email focused.

6. Never pre-fill the email addresses
Although when you click a reply or click reply to all, the email addresses are pre filled, avoid doing it. There are chances that one click send button by mistake through an accidental click or keyboard shortcut, and an incomplete message goes to the customer with a potential to cause miscommunication or misunderstandings.

7. Do not write in ALL CAPS
Writing in all capital letters signify that you are shouting. It is very annoying and will affect the relationships adversely.

8. Respond Quickly
Given that an email is meant and understood to be a medium of quick communication, always remember to respond promptly. If you can not answer with in a work day’s time then make sure that you write an acknowledgement of receiving the communication and letting the sender know the timeframe when he should expect a reply from you.

9. Read and review your message
Do not send your message before reviewing it. If possible, get it reviewed from your colleague who is good at the art of ‘crafting an email’. Read it critically and see to it that it conveys the right message.

10. Leave the message threads
Another point you should remember while replying is that you should leave the message thread while replying. It helps in maintaining the context when there is long discussion. On the downside, it takes longer to download the messages but the benefit that communication is intact and contextual overshadows it.

11. Never reply to all, always
It is always a good idea to keep maximum people in communication loop. While replying to all is a good and quick option, it should be used sparingly. Only use Reply to All if you actually intend your message to be seen by each person who received the original message

12. Do not overuse the high priority option
If you overuse the high priority option, it won't be effective when you really do need to use it. Your message may also come across as slightly aggressive if you flag it as "high priority".

13. Use To, Cc and Bcc judiciously
Understand that in To, we mention the people for whom a particular email is meant for, Cc are the people who are should be in the communication loop and need to be kept informed; The addresses in the 'Bcc' are like 'Cc' except that the addresses in 'To' and 'Cc' do not know that the addresses in the 'Bcc' are included in the conversation. The 'To' and 'Cc' addresses are blind to the 'Bcc' addresses. As you can imagine, use of the 'Bcc' is somewhat unethical and therefore its use is discouraged.

14. Use Proper Signatures
Having a complete signature with telephone contacts details below your email, ensures that you are contactable when required.

15. Use Templates for frequently used response
Many times we come across situations when we have to respond to similar types of questions and responses to these questions also remain same, barring some personalized contents.

16. Refrain from sending large attachments
All email clients give us facility to send attachments with our emails. And if the attachments are large in size, then they also have capacity to annoy the recipients of the email or if the attachments are large enough, they can bring down the whole email system. If you have to send the attachments then send compressed attachments and ensure that virus scanners are also in place so as to avoid any potential loss of information.

17. Do not overuse high priority option
If you overuse the high priority option, it will loose its meaning when you need it the most. We all know the story of a boy who cried wolf. Moreover, if you overuse the high priority option, it will be conveyed that you are sending message with some aggression.

18. Email structure
Since an email is read on screen, it is good to format the email so that it occupies appropriate space and easy to read. Make it a point to structure it properly before you send it.

19. Abbreviations and Emoticons
It’s not a good idea to use abbreviations and emoticons in emails. It does not project a good image of the company and they do not look professional. Also be aware that your emails may be referred to by the senior management in future and not everyone is aware of all the abbreviations and emoticons. In case some people do not understand the meaning of what you want to say, then this gap will cause a communication gap or some misunderstandings.

20. Do not forward chain letters
Do not forward chain letters, email hoaxes and virus hoaxes. It is a counter productive exercise and an overhead to the network bandwidth as well.

21. Avoid using URGENT and IMPORTANT
Do not overuse the words URGENT and IMPORTANT. This will have same impact like using high priority option.


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