One of my first emails from my boss at my new post-college job was shocking. There weren’t complete sentences. There wasn’t any punctuation. There wasn’t even a cute little emoticon at the end!
Great, I thought. I’ve been here 2 days and he already hates me.
I wallowed for that day and the next—until my workload picked up. Then, I found myself writing the exact same kind of emails as him: quick, to-the-point bullets that are easy to write and easier to read.
Now, I’m a huge fan of a beautifully written paragraph, but I wondered if those just don’t exist in the corporate world. To find out, I talked to one of my seasoned co-workers about email best practices. Here are five things I learned:
1. Know Your Audience
Email is a form of self-marketing—your words should make you seem likeable, competent, and professional.
To achieve this, consider what your audience needs and what they like before hitting that send button. Will they appreciate cordialities, or do they want the bare bones? Are they in need of information or just a pick-me-up?
Remember: What a friend might find witty or entertaining in an email might seem like a giant waste of time to your boss or coworkers.
2. Respond Quickly
When I say “respond quickly,” I don’t mean right when a message arrives. Staring at your inbox all day is a huge time-suck that won’t get you anywhere. Trust me—this compulsive email-er learned the hard way.
What I do mean, is that you should respond quickly based on an email’s importance. Is it urgent? Respond ASAP. Can it wait until the end of the day? Then, wait. Just don’t forget to reply.
No matter what, I try to respond the same day that I receive a message, so its sender knows where I stand with whatever they asked. It’s polite and lets people know you haven’t forgotten. This brings me to my next point.
3. Affirmations Are Good
After talking to my coworker and a few others around the office, I found that most people valued “affirmations” … but what are “affirmations”?
In short, when someone sends you an email asking “Can you do …?” you should “affirm” that you will. Instead of waiting until you finish the job to write back, confirm that you’re on top of the project and include when you plan to complete the task.
I was concerned that over-communication like this might annoy the recipient, but everyone I spoke with said it wouldn’t. Rather, the affirmation often allows them to cross something off their to-do list and plug in a date for when the project should be finished.
4. Bullets > Paragraphs
Let’s be serious: How would you feel if I wrote this blog post in a long-form essay rather than five digestible points? (At least, I think they’re digestible.) You would have stopped reading after a paragraph—if that.
People don’t have time to wade through all those words to get the meat of what you’re telling them. Give them exactly what they need to know in the easiest possible way.
Of course, they also won’t have to decipher a cryptic email. Bullets and brevity aren’t any good if what you write isn’t clear. So, always proofread to be sure your message makes sense.
5. Protect Yourself
Save your emails. Does that make me sound creepy and paranoid? Maybe.
However, nothing is more annoying than someone (a) saying they never told you they’d do something when they did or (b) saying they never signed off on something when they did.
Lucky for me, this hasn’t happened at this job yet. But if it does, I would have the emails to prove I’m not crazy!
What advice do you have for sending emails in the corporate world? Let us know in the comments!
(Photo: Kaze Designs)