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Corporate / business communication: writing an effective email


Image source: Business Practice (https://practicebusiness.co.uk)


Background


In the corporate / business world, emails are an essential part of communication. It would be an interesting exercise for an organisation to conduct an assessment of how much time in a day their employees spend in writing and reading emails and then quantify the time in terms of cost. Put it simply, how much money does an organisation spend in a day to make its employees write and read emails? I am attempting to make a point: having some effective email framework benefits not just an individual employee but also the organisation. While it is up to the executive leadership of an organisation to decide on having some effective framework for guiding emails, as induvial employees we can do a few things to write effective emails.


Where to start from


Before jumping to drafting an email, it is always a good idea to start with a structured approach, i.e. with some basic questions.


Primary questions


The best way to start an email is by getting answers to these questions:

What is the topic?

  • What is the purpose of sending this email?

  • Who is the audience?


Secondary questions


Once we have identified the audience, we should get the answers to the following questions:

  • What is the key message I am giving?

  • What do I want my recipients to think and feel?

  • What do I expect my audience to do with the message?

  • How can I save the time of my audience?


Tertiary questions


  • Have I done a spell check?

  • Have I completed the To and CC rows completely?


Last question, but not the least


To ensure a very productive approach where you can stay in control, consider these questions:

  • Do I need to create a follow up?

  • Shall I create some templates?


Let’s get into action


Now let us look at the answers to the above questions.


For the primary questions, be specific about the topic (the words that you will enter into the subject line) so it is very clear to the audience and they don’t have to spend more than a few seconds to guess what the topic is. To make it simple and easy for them (and for you too) add a few explanatory words, i.e. if they are supposed to complete an action or if the message just information only. To give you two examples of subject lines:


Example 1: XYZ system release

Example 2: XYZ system release gone live- complete the required training by 15 October close of business please!


Which one do you think is a better example?


For the secondary questions, start with a brief description of the context. That way the audience will relate to the message and pay close attention. If the message is related to their day to day job they will feel good and think that you care about them. We all are human beings and always think about anything in terms of What’s In It for Me (WIIFM). Then set the expectation, i.e. if you want them to complete an action then specify it with a time frame. If relevant attach the hyperlink to a website where they have to complete the training or any specific action. That way you are maximising the chances that your audience will complete the task that you want them to complete. Plus, by adding the hyperlink you are saving their time.

Tip!

  • Always use Plain English! Remember, an email is not the place to show your mastery of the language.

  • There may be exceptions where you will have to use flowery language, but on most occasions you want to get some actions completed and everyone in an organisation (including yourself) is time poor.

  • So, do your audience (and yourself) a favour by using Plain English! They will appreciate it.


For the tertiary questions, just imagine you have written a fantastic email and when your audience finds that the second word in your email is a typo, how will they think about it? Even worse, what will your boss or a senior executive will think? They might think you have a careless approach to the things that you do. Pressing F7 on the keyboard is not always enough to do a spell check. One effective approach is after writing an email:

  • Don’t send it straightaway, save it in the Draft section of Outlook.

  • Copy the content and paste it on a Word document

  • Do a review from the bottom to the start of the email.

  • Then do a review from the start to the end.

  • It is ideal if you can keep a gap of at least half an hour between creating the first draft and completing the spell check.


In terms of the recipients’ list, always include the people who need to know the message you are conveying or are expected to complete an action based on your email in the To line. If you need to keep some people in the loop but do not want them to complete an action, then include them in the CC list.


Any other considerations?


In relation to the points raised in Last question, but not the least, there are some good practices that you can follow.

  • If you expect your audience to complete an action then consider creating a follow up (either in Outlook or manually or both).

  • If you have to use similar messages every now and then, do you think it will be helpful to create some email templates and save them in Outlook?


The intention of good email habits is not just conveying a message but also to save time for the recipients and for yourself.


Author's note: You may also want to read this article by me, Managing change: how to write a good piece of communication.



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