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Seven Ways to Improve Your E-mail Messages

People believe sloppy e-mails make you look stoopid

Small Business Tech By James E. Gaskin, Network World
July 14, 2009 04:56 PM ET
James Gaskin

Network World - You are judged by the writing style, tone, language, and mistakes in your e-mails every single day. We're all so optimistic we believe people will overlook our e-mail typos and mistakes, while at the same time we privately label those who send us sloppy e-mails as careless, confused, or ineffective. A free e-mail service, GMX, did a survey and found the majority of Americans (58 percent) think less of people based on their e-mail content. Let's look at seven ways to help your e-mails label you as smart rather than stoopid.

First, and my pet peeve, is using e-mail for the wrong job. In a webinar I did for HyperOffice and in my contributions to their accompanying white paper, I listed four common business uses that get shoved onto e-mail that shouldn't. Coordinating schedules can better be done with a group calendar rather than arguing back and forth with others via e-mail about a meeting. Document collaboration works better with shared storage available to everyone rather than e-mailing edited copies of documents here and yon with no control or management. Managing tasks works better in project manager or task manager applications rather than demanding progress updates and work schedules via e-mail. And making group decisions or building group consensus fractures and falls apart via e-mail while it works much better on shared discussion boards.

In fact, I coined The Law of Meeting Coordination: Mail Volume = Participants Squared, or MV=P(2). The more people on an e-list for a meeting, the more replies full of “can't do it Thursday” and “do we need this boring meeting” and the like clog your inbox. And if the Radicati Group is right about world wide e-mail messages per day to average 247 billion (yes, Billion) this year, the fewer e-mails the better. That was the reasoning behind my column “Get More Work Done With Less E-mail”  last fall.

Second, use the subject line to your advantage to inform the recipient and help make your e-mail float to the top of their overflowing inbox. Think keywords in your subject and put them first. “What about a meeting for Acme Widgets” doesn't grab the eye like “New Customer Acme Widgets Meeting on Thursday.” Adding exclamation points won't help, I promise!!!!! Nor will yelling IN ALL CAPS.

A clear subject line flows from a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish with your e-mail. If you can't write a clear subject line, rethink your e-mail.

Third, when sending to a defined group, such as your salespeople, acknowledge them in the greeting. A first line of “For the sales team” will help your recipients know immediately if the message applies to them or not. If you're sending a note to someone you know well, start with their first name, because people's eyes zero in on their name and that will help convince them to read the rest of your message. E-mails often get forwarded beyond your control, so letting others know whether they need to read your message by stating upfront your recipients helps them save their e-mail time.

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