Ten Tips for Better Emails

Although my area of writing is primarily literary criticism and fiction, I have some experience with technical and business writing as well. This skill set, while completely different, serves me well in terms of handling the business of education and writing. One of my pet peeves is poor email communication skills. In all my courses, I give my students a ten point list of email etiquette in the hope that they will at least take those into the world with them. Here is my adapted guide to email:

  1. Keep your emails concise and to the point. You are more likely to get a response if your emails are no more than a paragraph long. (I am guilty of breaking this rule at times just due to the mass amount of issues I must address in a single email. Still a good rule of thumb though.)
  2. Create a clear subject line. In academics, put the course number and a specific subject in the line. For instance, if you are as student with questions about an assignment, ‘2311 Ethics Project Questions’ is much more appropriate (and helpful to your professor) than ‘Help!’ For other business related correspondence, include the project your email pertains to rather than something vague. It helps someone who receives massive amounts of email prioritize.
  3. Keep the tone of your email formal. Avoid slang, emoticons, and acronyms. You have been blessed with the gift of language. Use it.
  4. Do not overuse the high priority option. If you overuse the high priority or urgent option, it will lose its impact when you really need it. Moreover, even if a mail has high priority, your message will come across as slightly aggressive if you flag it as ‘high priority’.
  5. Use complete sentences and appropriate capitalization and punctuation. Emails are very difficult to read when they are just a string of words. (I had a boss who never used capitalization when he emailed me. It came across that I was not very important in his view, even if that was not his intention.)
  6. On the flip side, do not write in CAPITALS. IF YOU WRITE IN CAPITALS IT SEEMS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING. This can be highly annoying and might trigger an unwanted response in the form of a flame mail. Therefore, try not to send any email text in capitals.
  7. When corresponding with people you do not know, in your first email, always address people by their appropriate title, such as  professors as Professor (insert last name) or Dr. (insert last name). If they don’t have a title, begin with Ms. or Mr. If the person signs their response with just their first name, then you can address them by their first name in the next email.
  8. Sign your email with your first and last name, as well as your title (and company if you are emailing an outside source), phone number, and email. The person may know this information, but sometimes it’s hard to place a name in just an email. It also makes contacting you easier.
  9. Always thank people for their time and help.
  10. Check punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Most email programs contain spell check, so why not take advantage? Remember this email may be their first and/or only impression of you.
Categories: Write On | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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