5 Tips For Email Excellence In The Corporate World

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Office emails can be difficult to decipher at first.

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)

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  1. Kelley July 31, 2014 / 6:19 pm

    Hi Sasha, I am at a new company, been there for 6 months. My boss constantly sends me e-mails I have to ask for claification on because they are TOO fragmented. Our graphic designer refuses to communicate with him any more for this very reason. In addition, our customer service manage writes this way to customers. Her emails make sense, but there is still no capitalization, no punctuation. It seems highly unprofessional to communicate with customers in this way. Any suggestions for letting them know that it is reflecting poorly on us? These people are both in higher up positions than me and I don’t want to be rude, but it is a problem.

  2. Sasha August 5, 2014 / 10:40 am

    Hi Kelley,

    This is a tough one. Regarding your boss, I suggest scheduling a time with him to discuss your progress and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses within your position. Not only will this give you some valuable information about the how you’re doing in your new position, but it will give a good chunk of time to speak privately with your boss.

    Your boss is bound to ask you something along the lines of “What road blocks do think you’ve had so far in your position?” or “Where do you think you could improve in your position?” This is a great opportunity to bring up his emails.

    Simply explain that you feel like you’ve struggled to complete some projects that are given to you through email (or something else along those lines if that isn’t true). Explain how you plan on improving and then politely ask if he’d mind giving you more detailed instruction in emails in the future to help you with this.

    By approaching the situation like this, you’re making it more about your boss helping you and less about criticizing his email style.

    As for the customer service manager, I’d also express your concern about this to your boss on another occasion. I wouldn’t approach the customer service manager directly. They might think you’re out of line and your boss might be able to give you some background on why emails are approached in this way in your office.

    I hope this is helpful!

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