5 Common Business E-Email Ailments and How to Remedy Them
By Adam Lovinus
Your e-mails represent you as a professional as much as anything else does. That’s why it’s important to have your best foot forward in all work-related correspondences.
Weak writing creates confusion, which results in wasted time and unnecessary back-and-forth that annoys co-workers, customers, and clients.
Let’s look at five common e-mail writing mistakes made by professionals at every level. In doing so, we will establish writing fundamentals that will make your e-mails worth your time, and more importantly, worth your readers’ time.
1. Mistake: Too many words. Professionals are inundated with e-mail reading and responding. You need to get to the point. Why are you writing, what do you need, and when do you need it? Nail down these three things in as few words as possible and you’re on the right track.
Remedy: Use a subject-verb-object sentence structure. Adhere to this for most of your sentences, especially when explaining something or giving background information. It almost automatically makes your writing more efficient.
2. Mistake: Tightly written, but still too many words. Complexity and contingency are not good fits for e-mail. If your e-mail is asking more than one or two questions, or eliciting more than one desired action, e-mail is probably not appropriate for what you’re trying to achieve.
Remedy: Ask for a conversation. Old fashioned spoken discourse is highly efficient when addressing a situation with a lot of moving parts, or when gauging the recipient’s attitude to ideas you’re proposing. Take notes during the conversation, and send a follow-up email summarizing the points you discussed and the actions to be taken to get things in writing.
3. Mistake: Using the wrong tone. The way you address a team member is different from how you’d talk to a senior manager; both are different from how you’d address a customer or client.
Remedy: Write the way you talk. This is common advice for composing any type of correspondence. Deep down it’s a litmus test for identifying the audience to whom you’re communicating. What is the appropriate level of formality and graciousness that you’d use in person with the e-mail recipient? Apply the same tone to your e-mail.
4. Mistake: Vague subject line. A subject line should summarize the purpose of an e-mail in 10 words or less. It should answer the same “why, what, and when” stated in the body of the e-mail in the most concise manner possible.
Remedy: Write the body of the e-mail first. Write the subject line last. You’ll have a better idea of how to summarize it once the composition is done.
5. Mistake: Misuse of CC, Reply All, and Blind CC. To whom you send a message is as important as the message itself. Use the utmost discretion in doing so.
Remedy: Use sparingly. I get it–you want to look industrious, show how clever you are, make sure everyone is in the loop, and go for CYA all the way. Sometimes you have to do it. Most of the time you’re sending an unneeded e-mail. If the CYA situation arises, you can always re-send old e-mails to new recipients to show your due diligence.
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