Email is becoming the standard communication channel these days. That’s nothing new. Whether you’re a law enforcement officer/worker, marketer, student or online worker, you’re probably already spending a good percentage of your day in front of a computer and using email as your main means of communication, right? But just because you use email, doesn’t mean you’re doing it right, and most importantly, most effectively. If you rely on email to communicate as much as I do, you should ask yourself these 7 questions:
1. Do you limit to one screen or less?
If you answered yes to this question, you’re probably already writing short and succinct emails. That’s good. Whenever you are about to send an email, pause for a second and analyze if you could eliminate unnecessary words, phrases or even complete paragraphs. Most people will begin to scan rather than reading the email if the reader sees words running off the bottom of the screen, potentially missing the key elements of the message. Don’t worry about going straight to the point. In fact, that’s what you should do. Most people won’t be offended because you removed the “small talk.”
2. Do you write in bullets or sentences when there’s a lot to cover?
If you must write a long email (for whatever reason) you should use bullets. Online usability tests show that when people read messages off the computer screen, they find it easier to read and RETAIN the information if it’s broken down into bullet points, rather then long paragraphs.
3. Do you give the “meat and potatoes” in the subject line?
This one is so important because if you don’t craft the message of your subject line carefully, you won’t need too much in the body of the email. Here’s a good formula I follow for the subject line: subject + active verb + object. And try to be as specific as you can. For example, “Cancelled” is a bad subject line; “April mkg. meeting cancelled to May 9” is better.
4. When you send from your iPhone, do you tell people?
Some people think this is self-gloating but I disagree. If you’re a smart phone user, make sure you include a tagline by your signature telling recipients you’re using an electronic device. It will help explain why the message is short, possibly unclear (I cringe—you really should never misspell, but it happens.) If you don’t, your message may come off as rude.
5. Do you re-read and run your spell check?
I hope you said yes. Seems like common sense but most people are in a hurry and forget. It’s very unprofessional. Make it a habit to re-read and spell check every email before you send it. You should always be looking for errors, spelling mistakes, missing information, missing attachments and so on. I’m guilty of this too, folks! I’m no saint. But these mistakes will hurt your credibility. And, well, once you hit “send,” it’s hard to recall the message.
6. Do you ask questions?
I hope you do. Don’t use email as a one-way medium. Just like social media, the true power of email is its interactive capabilities. Managers, directors and supervisors: Do remember, this is a two-way street. If you’re going to encourage interaction with your employees, be sure you take time to answer them. If you don’t, it will set you up for possible reliability failure.
7. Do you organize, archive and store messages?
I made this mistake when I first started as a copywriter. Big mistake. Huge. I didn’t have evidence of a project/deadline and it really cost me my credibility in the long run. Make sure to organize, archive and save important messages. Outlook, Entourage, Gmail, Yahoo, they all have great saving and filing capabilities. If you’re like me, you don’t always have time to read all messages but you know you need to refer back. For example, if you just created an account for an online service like WordPress, you know they will send you a confirmation (of course), containing your user name and password. Archive these messages right way. An alternative to archiving is simply marking the messages as read, so they stay visible in your inbox.
What do you do to effectively communicate using email? Please share below.
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