How Do You E-Mail?

I sometimes come across e-mail messages that seem discourteous. I often know the people sending these missives – they don’t strike me as impolite. Yet their e-mails send a certain vibe: “I communicate like a robot, not a human.” There is no greeting, such as “Hi, Craig,” or salutation, like “Regards” or, to get crazy, “Thank you.” Instead, the message is abrupt, even clipped.

I think the “disembodied” nature of the e-mail medium is partly to blame (I won’t even address texting or twitter here; that is for another time). You are not communicating directly with a person, but a screen. E-mail should be used as an efficient tool for communication – but with a human feel. Be as direct as you like, but don’t forget the reader on the other end of the screen.

As a corporate writer working in the GTA, here are some tips I like to share on writing e-mails.

  1. Write an informative, brief subject line (don’t leave it blank). The more specific, the better. Instead of “This Friday,” try “This Friday’s 1:00 p.m. Meeting: R&D Cost Issues.” Subject lines that stand alone are often the most effective.
  2. Be brief and respect other peoples’ time. E-mail messages look and feel twice as long on screen as they do in hard copy. Use short words, phrases and contractions. Try, however, to avoid cryptic one or two-word responses to requests. This often raises more questions and can generate e-mail tag (just like phone mail tag).
  3. Make it easy for readers to reply. Word your question so a yes/no answer is required. Instead of open-ended questions like, “What do you think” try more specific queries, such as “Do you agree with this recommendation and, if so, when should we move forward with it?”
  4. End well. Propose a specific next step, response or working deadline. “We need your response to meet our February 1 deadline. I look forward to your contribution. Thank you.”
  5. Proofread. Simply because it’s electronic communication doesn’t mean that the same grammar, spelling and punctuation rules are void. Ensure the speed of the medium hasn’t made you sloppy.
  6. Wait a minute and review before sending. It’s easy to just click the “send” button immediately. Check your e-mail for tone, topic and typos. Make sure what you are sending is constructive, courteous and purposeful.
  7. Don’t forward messages without comment. Some use the forward key with a trigger finger. If you receive an e-mail that you think is relevant to another person, don’t assume he or she knows why. A quick sentence can spell it out. Think twice before sending out a broad forward or cc to a wide audience.


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