Tips on Improving Your E-mails
Here are some quick things that can help make your e-mails better…
The Subject Line
This is the most important part of the e-mail. When people first check their new messages, this is what they see listed – and this is the information they have to use to decide whether your e-mail is either important or urgent.
Make sure you put a concise description of your message content here. If possible, write it in a way that means they don’t necessarily have to open the message to know what it is about.
e.g. Weekly Team Meeting moved to 3.30pm next week
Don’t just dive into the message content – say hello. If you are unsure how formal you should be, look for a message they sent you before and echo their salutation. If they said “Dear Pete,” use the same format. If they say “Hi,” do the same. It’s the equivalent of matching body language to gain rapport.
Be careful not to lower your standards too much, as you message may get passed on to other people. Avoid overly-friendly introductions, like “Hey man, what’s up?” unless it is a strictly personal e-mail. Also, avoid echoing poor spelling or grammar. Thats, like, totally rude man.
Put your Message in Context
Don’t expect the person you are sending the message to to remember all your previous conversations. If you’re not replying to an e-mail that they sent you, you need to make it clear what you are talking about. Use the first line to add some background information.
e.g. You may remember I spoke to you last week about the issues we were having with George’s schedule….
Focus on what they need to know
Don’t give any more information than they need to know to make a decision. Their first decision will be “do I need to deal with this now?” so it helps to give an indication of urgency or importance. However, avoid using the words “important” or “urgent” – as these are actually pretty meaningless on their own. If there is a deadline involved, just state the date/time they need to act by. If it is important, state the consequences of inaction.
You can use layered complexity here to keep the message short – just give them what you think they need, and offer a phone call or follow up message if this isn’t what they were after. This saves you time writing paragraphs and paragraphs covering the options in detail.
e.g. We have several of them available – our blue model costs £452.99. We have twenty available – if you want a quote on another colour, let me know which one, and I can give you more details. Alternatively, I’m in the office all afternoon if you want to give me a call to discuss.
Use a Well-Designed Signature
Most people spend a couple of minutes setting up their e-mail signature, then never change it again. Since your signature goes out on every e-mail you send, you can use it to offer some very useful information, including:
- When you check your messages (e.g. I check my e-mails every weekday at 10am and 3:30pm). This stops them getting annoyed when you don’t respond in three minutes.
- If you’re going to be unavailable shortly – add red text to draw their attention (e.g. Vacation: I’ll be on vacation from the 6th-19th June. Please call Mary on xxxx during this time.)
- Changes to your contact details. (e.g. Telephone Change: My new mobile number is xxxxxxxxxxx)
Don’t go overboard on this and have a 30-line signature covering all possible things they might want to know. If you think you will need more than seven lines, consider setting up a webpage somewhere with a personal FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) that you can refer them to. In your signature, just put your phone number, the URL to your page, along with any news items listed above.
You can use the E-mail Signature Builder Tool on the website to help you get started.