How to Write an Effective Email: Part 2

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This post is specifically about composing emails that are correspondence with your colleagues, and others with whom you want to make a positive, professional impression. For how to write an effective email that has a clear call to action (like you need something from them), click here.

Do you send and receive numerous emails every single day that require some level of professionality? As in, do you have to communicate via email with your colleagues or (more importantly) someone you hope will become one of your colleagues?

Email has become the top communication form across all professions, and due to the non-verbal nature of the medium it can be easy to send the wrong message (pun intended) without realizing it. Here are some guidelines on how to write an effective email that will convey not only the primary information you want the recipient to understand, but also the information they will infer about who you are as a professional.

1. Consider the Opening and the Closing

What’s the first impression you want to make with this email? Because how you choose to open the dialogue gives the recipient quite a bit of information. Did you go with a formal “Dear ____,” or something along the lines of “Hello ____,”? The more established your relationship is, the more informal your email can be. But if it’s someone you don’t know in real life, then error on the side of caution with formality.

Open with a clear greeting (Dear, Good Morning, Hello, etc.), and close with a distinct sign-off (Sincerely, Thanks, With Gratitude.) Once you’ve been sending emails back and forth for a bit in an exchange, you can let go of some of the formalities and move towards having a conversation. But skipping this quick step can come across as overly familiar, or worse, lazy, unprofessional, or uncaring.

2. Be mindful of spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

I cannot tell you how many times someone has emailed me wanting me to review their application, hire them for a position, or sell me something, and their email was riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. This doesn’t mean you need to fanatically follow all grammatical rules (English is a strange language and even I don’t follow all the rules all the time), but it does mean you need to adhere to the widely known and accepted rules. As in, get your you’re/yours straight, learn your their/there/they’res, make sure your verbs agree, and so on. If you’re unsure about the grammar, check it here.

On that note, run that spell check! It won’t catch everything (especially if something was autocorrected), but it will help with typos and glaring errors. Additionally, make sure to avoid text message language (“ur” makes me shudder) at all costs, and remember to use at least basic punctuation.  

3. Use emojis sparingly and with the right audience

Tone can be incredibly hard to convey over email, and it can easily be misconstrued. It’s so challenging that we now use emojis in emails and text messages to let people know exactly what our intended tone is. However, using emojis in and of itself sends a message to the recipient, and sometimes it may not be appropriate to use one. Instead, consider your audience: is this person in such a position that you want to impress them professionally? Then avoid emojis. Is it a trusted colleague, a supervisor you have a great relationship with, or a subordinate you want to make feel comfortable? Then use your emojis (albeit sparingly).

4. Consider using mitigating language to help open up dialogue

If the email is regarding a potentially tense situation, a difference of opinion, or a potentially high-stakes topic, then using mildly mitigating language can do a lot to diffuse the situation.

Consider the following simple statements:

1) I need you to explain this idea.

OR  

2) I’m curious about this idea and I’d love to know more about how it developed.

While the first statement may be totally innocuous, it can easily be read as confrontational. When faced with confrontation most people either fight back, or shut down. As in, the misconstrued tone would make your email very ineffective indeed! However, simply expressing curiosity can do wonders to establish a warm, welcoming tone that fosters productive dialogue.

4. Have a clear purpose and quickly get to the point

The great promise of technology was that it was supposed to save us tons of time; instead of having endless meetings and phone calls, we were supposed to switch to quick emails. That didn’t happen. We still have all of the same meetings and calls, and now a never-ending stream of emails and text messages to reply to as well. Do your colleagues a favor: keep your email short, sweet, and to the point.

 On that note, I’ll leave you with this: email can be a powerful and efficient communication tool if used correctly. Before sending an email always consider what your key purpose is, and who is going to be reading it.

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