You use email every day to communicate with colleagues, prospects, clients, vendors and more.
But are you really making the most of this tool?
More than likely, you don’t think twice about it. Maybe it’s time you did: according to a 2016 University of Maine School of Business study, email can foster highly constructive interactions between senders and receivers.
Researchers found that the 468 emails they collected and studied over 44 weeks fell into three categories that did the following:
- shared knowledge
- built interpretations
- identified/resolved problems
What they ultimately concluded was that email’s unique qualities — its editability, its ease of replication and its asynchronous nature — can significantly enhance face-to-face communication.
So what can you do to make your emails more effective?
Here are six basic emailing do’s:
Do #1: Create a brief subject line
Use the subject line to say what your email is about in as few words as possible. Think of it as a kind of headline for your reader.
Do #2: Get to the point
Write a short (3-5 line) email that gets to the point quickly, especially if you are seeking a yes/no response.
Do #3: Use a conversational tone
Unless you don’t know the recipient (or that person is of higher professional status than you are) there’s no need to use formal titles like “Dr.,” “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Ms.”
But don’t “hey dude” the person, either.
Assuming you have had some previous contact with your addressee, “speak” your email as though you were having a business conversation. First names are usually fine.
Do #4: Know who’s receiving what
Are you sending an email to one person? Several? Make sure you know exactly who will receive the message.
It’s embarrassing to send an email to a group that was intended for only one person in that group…and time consuming to have to send a follow-up explaining the oversight.
Do #5: Proof the email
Run a spell and grammar check. But beware: technology has its limits. A spell checker, for example, can only tell you whether a word is spelled correctly. It can’t say whether it’s being used properly.
An effective old-school way to proof is to read your email out loud — your ear may catch what your eyes can’t see.
Do #6: Limit emoticon use
Cute, colorful and fun, emoticons are all the rage. But they’re also out of place in business communication. Unless you know the recipient well, resist the temptation to use them.
Now here are six emailing don’ts:
Don’t #1: Send an email without a subject line
Never leave the subject line blank. Your recipient may think your email is not important and either trash or ignore it.
Don’t #2: Email when angry, upset or tired
Have your wits about you. Business emails need to remain neutral.
Like drunk texts, emotional emails — or those that could be construed as offensive — can come back to haunt you. You want to get things done…and solve problems, not create them.
Don’t #3: Treat emailing like a competition
Take time to compose an email, especially if it’s important.
And if you receive a group email? Strive for thoughtful responses because you have something to say rather than an “I-win because-I-answered-first” attitude.
Don’t #4: Bring up unrelated topics
Stay focused: one email, one subject.
If you find that you’re talking about more than one subject or going off on a tangent, rein it in.
Remember: the shorter you keep your email, the less likely you’ll be to stray.
Don’t #5: Hesitate to ask for help
Not sure about email tone or clarity? Send a copy of your email to someone you trust and ask him/her to eyeball what you’ve written.
Remember: as the 2016 University of Maine study cited earlier suggests, email is an effective tool for collaboration. Use this strength to your benefit.
Don’t #6: Make recipients work for information
Does your email use acronyms or terms that recipients may not know? Explain them.
Does it refer to something that exists in picture/photograph format? Include the image.
Does it refer to websites? Include relevant URLs/links immediately after the mention: e.g., Psychology Today online (https://www.psychologytoday.com/).
You need to be especially careful if you use a mobile device to send email. Phones in particular can be tricky because the input keys are smaller. This can lead to making more grammar mistakes and sending information to the wrong recipients.
Email is one of the great conveniences of the information age. But to make it work for your business, you need to understand not only what it can do, but the best ways of harnessing its potential.