24 May Write Right: Tips on How to Write a Better Work Email
If you have a job in an office (and even if you don’t) you spend some time writing emails. For some, most of the business can be communicated by work email – accountants, lawyers, bankers, secretaries, customer service reps – you never have to see your customer. And even if you do, you’ll find you often email your boss, your team, other departments. And then there are the dozens – or hundreds – of emails you receive. So how do you write a work email that is polite, clear, concise, and effective?
Tips to help you write a great work email:
Subject matters. In today’s crowded inboxes, everyone is skimming the subject line and making a decision whether to even open your email. So have a subject that is clear, brief (so it doesn’t get cut off) and easily indicates the contents.
Don’t put things like “urgent” “important” or “high priority” unless it really is. And most email systems have a way to mark the email as high importance – so you don’t have to add that in the subject. But don’t put vague headings like “as we discussed” or “great read”. Make it easy for the recipient to search for it later “summary of sales meeting Feb 4” or “overview of proposed changes to employee handbook”.
Great greeting. While it’s important to keep the email brief, it’s worth considering a brief, personal but professional opening. Just something simple like “hope you’re doing well” is enough, but a work email risks sounding cold or blunt, and this extra line can help soften it.
K.I.S.S. As usual the Keep It Simple, Stupid theory works for most emails also. Make it clear in the opening section what the email is about. If you have to write more than a couple sentences, consider using bullets instead.
This will save the extra words necessary for good grammar. So “We met with the sales team and agreed to the new pricing structure.” can be “met with sales, agreed on new pricing”. Visually, you want to leave white space – so if you do write full sentences, don’t write one long paragraph. Organize it, and consider a brief subheading to it’s easy to skim.
Public policy. Make sure you have a personal rule to only share on email something that you don’t mind getting forwarded, sent to the wrong person, or printed out. Email is forever. And you can’t control where else it will go. So if it’s a sensitive matter or could embarrass someone, communicate the old-fashioned way – by phone or in person.
You can easily improve every work email by taking your time.
Although everyone is in a rush and shooting off information while standing in line at the post office, or on the way out the door to head home, it makes it easy to make mistakes. Take the time to check for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. And make sure that attachment you referred to really is attached – the only thing worse than a poor email is having to send two.