Each of us write many emails on any given workday, giving us an opportunity to make countless impressions, positive or negative, on the people who receive them. Emails not only serve to communicate a message, but they often remain on the recipients’ computers for months or even years. By adopting the simple suggestions we provide in this post from start to finish, and using our handy printable checklist, you will improve your email communications as well as your colleagues’ perceptions of you.
- Informative subject line. We all get too many emails, and often rely on the subject line to determine, well, the subject of the email. You undoubtedly have a topic in mind when composing an email, that’s a no brainer. However, if you’re like me, you also don’t want to send too many emails, so you may add a few facts and/or questions as well to an email you’re already sending. Before sending the email, consider adding these issues to the subject line, separated by commas. However, if you’re answering a question that was sent to you in an earlier email, you may want to consider not mixing the conversation thread and instead answering this query by replying to the original email.
- Intelligent Cc’s. The acronym ‘cc’ stands for ‘carbon copy’ and comes from the old days when physical letters were typed using carbon paper between sheets of paper. The copies were then distributed to these secondary ‘cc’ recipients, and when us old folks were taught how to write a letter, the cc recipients were indicated at the top. Today, some may argue that using the cc field is no different than comma separated email addresses in the ‘to’ field, but we disagree. If an email is going primarily to one person, but other people need to be apprised of the information, these ‘secondary’ recipients should be placed in the cc field for clarification. Additionally, as some people don’t notice whether they were the primary or secondary recipient of an email, this designation should also appear in the salutation (e.g., Dear Primary Recipient, *line break* (cc) Secondary Recipients. This clarification ensures that the primary recipient is responsible for carefully reading and responding to the email. If the email is meant for a group, with no primary recipient, skip the CC option and name the individuals unless the number exceeds four.
- Short and sweet. Emails are great because they are a self-documenting form of communication. This benefit means that they have become a ‘catch all,’ overwhelming some people with a bloated inbox, causing them to skim over the messages for important content. You can combat this and make sure that your emails are read thoroughly using the same techniques used in writing for the web: use short paragraphs with one idea each, bullets, or numbered items. This way, you’ll be more sure that the questions and action items you’re trying to communicate are understood. Conversely, some people think that less is more, and that sending a brief message from a mobile device is better than sending no message at all. Consider that your email recipient may have no way of knowing that you’re sending it from the back seat of a cab, and it can look very unprofessional if it incomplete or poorly written. In the worst case, your message can be completely misunderstood. If you don’t have the time to compose a message that is clear and professional, hold off until you can write a complete message, and remember each message represents a lasting reflection on you.
- Bold names. I learned this trick from my mentor Karin Hughes while working at EMD, and it is related to the last point. Whether you’re addressing a group or individual, you want to make sure each stakeholder in the email knows what you need from them, making everyone more efficient. Bold each incidence of a person’s name in the body of the email, especially if you are asking them a question or to accomplish a task.
- Smart attachments. This week I was looking for a document I received as an email attachment about two years ago. I loaded my email archive and ran some searches. I found the attachment after some digging and if the file had been named smartly, my search would have been faster. When writing emails, describe each attachment clearly, and name the files accordingly so they can be found during a search later.
- Complete signature. If you follow Comprendia on Twitter, you know that this common omission is one of my pet peeves. While today’s business relies heavily on email, there are myriad reasons for needing phone, street address, or company information. When this information is not included in email signatures, it can be a big time sink for those who want to contact you, including email searches, making a request for contact information, and then waiting for a response. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many people now send emails from multiple devices, meaning that they must compose a signature on each. By including complete contact information on every email, you save colleagues time, which is always appreciated. In addition, if you are emailing a potential client or partner, it is more likely that they will work with you it is easy to reach you.
By following these simple guidelines, you’ll not only be more efficient, but you’ll create a lasting, positive impression by helping others finish tasks and find the information. As we’ve covered before, email is a powerful form of communication you can use with existing contacts or to make new business opportunities. By making these small changes to your emails (click on the image to get a printable PDF to use as a guide), you’ll improve your personal brand daily.
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