If you’re like most professionals, you use e-mail all the time. With email, you don’t have to worry about catching a person at an inconvenient time, or wait for her to get off the phone with someone else, you simply hit “send” and it’s off. According to a Robert Half International survey, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of executives polled prefer e-mail over other forms of communication.
While everyone is in a hurry, sending email messages without much thought can easily give the wrong, sometimes way wrong, message. Project the right image with your message using these top 8 e-mail practices:
1. A precise subject line. The subject line lets the person receiving the message know what it’s about, and also provides him or her with a reason to read it. Some people — and your boss is probably one of them — get hundreds of e-mails each day and may not have the time to open each of them. The subject line acts as the window into the message and can also indicate its level of urgency, so be specific.
2. A professional sign-off. A weak signature is like a clammy handshake. Yuck. Your email signature should include your e-mail address, physical work address and phone number. These details give recipients multiple means of contacting you. Remember that your email may well be forwarded to people who have no idea who you are, so this information is especially important.
3. Real English without ALL CAPS. Most people take an extremely, perhaps too casual approach when using e-mail. But your writing reflects your professional self, so take the time to craft complete sentences, use proper grammar and check your spelling. And don’t depend solely on your computer’s spell-check function; review your e-mail carefully before sending it.
4. Get to the point. Keep it short, but complete. Brief sentences and short paragraphs are best. However, make sure you include everything that’s necessary and you don’t want to appear curt.
5. When in doubt, leave it out. Remember email messages leave out over 90% of the content. There’s no facial expression and little, if any, context. Any attempt at humor may be read as something offensive or inappropriate. If you’re not sure how something you wrote will be interpreted, leave it out. Keep this in mind with large attachments, send massive files only to people who absolutely need them.
6. Double-check your recipients. It’s far too easy to send the message to the totally wrong person, especially if several of your contacts have the same first name. Be careful about the recipients of your email.
7. Separate business and pleasure. When the information is confidential or sensitive, including personal information in a professional context could be dangerous. If you use your work e-mail account, the message should be business-related. Get familiar with your organization’s e-mail policy, and have your friends send non-work-related e-mail to your personal account.
8. Consider using other communication media. If you find yourself typing a long message in order to avoid confusion, it’s probably better to get on the phone. Same goes for a message that you don’t want forwarded. E-mail is best suited for quick and emotion-free communication
With e-mail correspondence becoming increasingly important in the workplace, you can only benefit from learning how to craft an effective message. So keep the above tips in mind the next time you sit down at the keyboard.
Mixonian has two other posts about getting email right on July 20 and July 22. Email’s important, take advantage to get your best message out.