Whether it’s an introductory paragraph for that dream position or the quick note to the other side of the office, there are certain nuances to writing emails that are easily overlooked with the hustle and bustle of the day. That time constraint mixed with an increasingly textual world filled with abbreviations and symbols, (U know what I mean? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) we seem to be collectively getting a little too lax when it comes to our messages. As I too fall victim to the same cultural phenomenon, here are reminders of things to consider when professionally emailing peers and future employers:
Spelling, spelling, spelling!
I know, I know. Although a rudimentary reminder, it can be a devastating mistake. When writing an email, you are communicating solely through text, so making a spelling mistake is the equivalent of mispronouncing a word while talking. Not a deal breaker, but embarrassing. Also if the recipient is like me, he/she will make note when you make these mistakes, especially if it is on a recurring basis.
While we’re at it, please double and triple check the recipient’s name. Misspelling the recipient’s name can be a sure-fire way to shoot yourself in the foot before he/she even read your perfect manifesto of a message. Also, keep watch for small mistakes like mixing up “are” and “our” (happens more than you think!), and one that I commonly catch myself doing is writing “you” when I meant to write “your.”
Read them out loud.
In my experience, the best way to make sure a message is understandable is to hear how it sounds when read out loud (even silently mouthing the words helps if you don’t want to seem like you’re talking to yourself). I often find snags in sentence structure that eluded me while creating the message. Even worse, sometimes I realize my message just isn’t clearly conveying what I need it to!
Be clear and concise.
Brevity is your best friend. I would say more, but it defeats the purpose.
Don’t make the info too dense – break up into thoughts
Some authors are masters of jamming information into a sentence while effortlessly bringing the reader to the end of the paragraph, but those of us without Pulitzer Prizes are probable incapable of doing this, too. So try to make a habit of not allowing your sentences and paragraphs get flooded with too much info. Also, I find if I have a lot of information to include, there is a danger of some tidbits getting lost in the fold of the jam-packed sentences. The way that I combat this is by breaking the message up into separate thoughts, so that each has its own designated space.
Credibility seems like a strange thing to worry about in an email, but it is extremely important. When we speak face-to-face we are subconsciously taking cues from tone, confidence, posture and other nonverbal communication. When reading an email, all we have is the impression we get specifically from the words and the words alone. When I receive messages with spelling errors, meandering messages, clunky sentence structure and information overload, I get frustrated. Not only that, I feel the person sending the message didn’t feel this communication with me was worth the time and effort to do a good job. Pretty harsh criticism, I know, but it’s the email equivalent of not bothering to look up from your phone during a conversation!
Although none of the tips above are mind-blowing, focusing on spelling, coherence, brevity, readability and credibility require effort. We can compress these tips down into one: be conscientious of your reader’s perspective, and show that you put thought into your message. Today, everyone is receiving hundreds of messages per day with the sole cookie-cutter purpose of catching the attention of anyone. When you send messages, you should try to catch the attention of someone. Ask yourself, what is more likely to catch my attention in a message? What are my pet peeves in regards to emails? These introspections are an excellent first step in avoiding common mistakes.
Am I missing anything? Feel free to let me know in the comments!
Justin is Medix IT’s resident email expert. He works in the Epic Practice as Support Specialist and impacts client outreach strategy across all of North America.