Chapter 15: Writing Email

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Writing Emails

Email is a workhorse of business communication. It is fast and official, accessible on many different devices. Here are just a few of the uses of email in business:

  • To provide day-to-day communication and updates

  • To carry newsletters to customers and clients

  • To carry documents, pictures, or videos

  • To track the use of social media

  • To provide official, date-stamped communications

This chapter focuses on the basics of email communication, with guidelines for writing email and help with email etiquette.

In this chapter

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Guidelines Writing Emails

In writing an email, your goal is to provide clear, concise information in a fast, efficient manner.

  1. Plan: (Ideas and Organization)

    • Clarify what you want your email to accomplish.

    • Think about your reader’s position and possible reaction.

    • Gather necessary information and arrange your points.

    • Write a subject line using keywords to name your topic and purpose and focusing on the reader's reason to read. Keep it short.

    • Limit the length of your message to one screen if possible. For sales or marketing emails, strive for 200 words or less.

  2. Draft: (Ideas, Organization, and Voice)

    Opening Use a greeting to personalize the message. Then state your reason for writing the message.

    Middle Provide details that answer readers’ questions: What is this message about? What does it mean to me? Why is it important? (Try to restrict each email to a single topic.)

    Closing Indicate any follow-up needed. Who will be responsible for what? Then close politely.

  3. Revise: (Ideas, Organization, Voice, Words, and Sentences)

    • Have you supplied a clear, sensitive explanation that helps the reader say, “I understand”?

    • Have you used a sincere, gracious tone that avoids a “we” versus “you” attitude?

    • Have you used neutral, exact, and sensitive wording?

    • Do you have easy-to-read sentences with smooth transitions?

  4. Edit: (Conventions and Design)

    • Have you checked names, dates, grammar, punctuation, and spelling?

    • Have you checked format (spacing, type, and so on)?

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

—Elmore Leonard

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Writing Basic Emails

Format Tips

  • Use short paragraphs and double-space between them.

  • Create lists with numbers, bullets, or asterisks.

  • Begin with an appropriate greeting and conclude with a fitting closing.

  • In the subject line, clarify the nature of your message and use labels when appropriate (FOR ACTION, FYI, URGENT).

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Email Tips

When should you choose email over a phone call, letter, or memo? Check the tips below to help you decide.

Strong Points

Simplicity and Speed

An email message is easy to compose and travels instantly to the reader.

Flexibility and Power

With email, you can send, receive, and store messages easily, communicating with both on-site coworkers and far-off customers. In addition, you can embed links and attachments to more information.

Clarity

Email replies can include the original correspondence, establishing a clear electronic trail.

Economy

Maintenance costs are minimal—no postage, no paper.

Weak Points

Quality and Frequency

Because email is easy to use, writers may overload readers with unnecessary or poorly written messages.

Accessibility and Respect

Some readers may look at email as lightweight correspondence—easy to delete or ignore.

Confidentiality

Email can sometimes end up in the wrong place, so confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. In addition, your message may be forwarded, so think twice before sending sensitive information by email.

Global Issues

Because email can travel around the globe to diverse readers, be sensitive to cultural differences. Avoid slang and colloquialisms.

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Email Etiquette and Shorthand

How should you behave in the realm of email? It’s simple: Follow the rules of etiquette and use initialisms and emojis only in informal communications, not official business.

Etiquette

Appropriate Use

Use email for group projects, announcements, routine messages, and immediate follow-up. Generally, avoid email for sensitive issues, serious topics, or bad news. As always, follow your company’s policies about email use.

Message Checking

Check your email several times a day. If you can’t respond immediately, send a short message to indicate that you received the message and that you will reply by a specific time.

Distribution

Instead of distributing emails too widely, send them only to those who need them. Otherwise readers may routinely delete your messages.

Emotion

Email is terrible at conveying emotion. Readers tend to assume a more negative emotion than the email writer intended. A neutral writer may sound annoyed. An annoyed writer may sound angry. As a result, when writing emails, raise your level of positivity by one notch. If you are neutral, try to sound positive. If you are annoyed, try to sound neutral. If you are angry, avoid email and seek a less volatile medium of communication.

Spamming

Avoid sending unsolicited ads by email.

Forwarding

Think carefully before forwarding messages. When in doubt, get permission from the original sender.

Ethics

Because companies are legally responsible for their computer network activity, email is company property. In addition, networks typically store messages for years. So only write messages you would not mind seeing in the company newsletter.

Formality Level

Use language appropriate for your reader, whether a coworker or a client. Distinguish between in-house email and messages to people outside your organization. Avoid emojis and initialisms in formal communication.

Emojis

As you are likely aware, emojis are little illustrations of facial expressions, conveying an emotion along with your text. Most social media applications provide numerous options, though emojis should not appear in formal business writing. Limit them to use in informal situations with close colleagues within your organization.

Emojis

Initialisms

Initialisms are conversational shorthand—abbreviations with no periods.

LOL

Laugh Out Loud

OTOH

On The Other Hand

F2F

Face To Face

BTW

By The Way

FYI

For Your Information

IMHO

In My Humble Opinion

TIA

Thanks In Advance

IOW

In Other Words

FWIW

For What It’s Worth

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Checklist Writing Emails

In writing an email, your goal is to provide clear, concise information in a fast, efficient manner.

My email . . .

  • Ideas

    • is strong, clear, and accurate.

    • has answered the reader’s questions: Why are you writing me? What needs to be done?

  • Organization

    • is appropriately direct or indirect, based on the reader’s likely response.

    • contains an informative subject line.

    • follows a fitting opening, middle, closing structure.

  • Voice

    • is courteous throughout.

    • uses an appropriate voice and focuses on the reader’s needs.

  • Words

    • uses plain English—precise, clear, and simple words.

    • uses and defines technical terms carefully.

    • uses names and personal pronouns, especially “you,” effectively.

  • Sentences

    • has short- to medium-length sentences that pass the “read aloud” test.

    • uses transition words to link ideas.

  • Correctness

    • follows all punctuation and capitalization rules.

    • uses correct abbreviations, titles, and spelling throughout.

    • contains no errors in grammar or keyboarding.

  • Design

    • follows all the rules of the format.

    • contains short paragraphs.

    • uses headings and bulleted or numbered lists wherever helpful.

“I don’t believe in email. I’m an old-fashioned girl. I prefer calling and hanging up.”

—Sarah Jessica Parker

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