Despite the volume of communication that takes place via email, few people consider the impression that they leave in a digital space as much as they do in a physical sense.
1. Be concise
Your email is one of many, so your subject line has to tell the recipient exactly what’s in your email. You want the recipient to have a good idea what you need from them, without them having to open the email.
The other side of this is that the content of your email should match the subject. Not only does this make it easier to deal with at the time, but it will make the conversation much easier to refer to in the future.
2. Make sure everyone knows who you are
It might seem obvious, but it’s important that the recipient knows who you are. If you’re emailing someone you don’t have a prior relationship with, take a sentence or two to introduce yourself. Regardless of who you’re emailing, you should have an easy to digest signature block containing all your contact details, so that nobody ever has to spend time hunting you down.
3. Email impressions count
You might not be meeting face to face, but an email gives at least as much of an impression as your appearance. Make sure you appear as professional and competent as you are. Use a professional or institutional email address, or at the very least, one that is just your name.
Save the text abbreviations, excess exclamation points, and emoticons for outside of business hours. What might seem perfectly understandable to you could look like gibberish to the recipient.
4. Know your audience
If you don’t have much of a relationship with the recipient, it might be best to keep the smalltalk to a minimum. Even if you’ve worked with them for years, though, you need to consider cultural and individual differences when you write. Humour should be considered carefully as well, even beyond a cultural standpoint. Text is notoriously bad at communicating tone, so what you mean as sarcasm could easily cause offence.
5. Private communication isn’t
People get copied into conversations constantly. Messages are forwarded. ‘Reply all’ is clicked instead of ‘reply’. If you wouldn’t be comfortable saying something in a meeting, think carefully about whether you should write it in an email. Even completely innocently, a comment that was meant to be private could be passed on to someone to whom it could cause offence or upset.
6. Proofread everything
Even just clicking spellcheck is a great start, but taking a minute to read through your message to make sure you haven’t said anything you don’t mean to, through auto-correct or otherwise, is certainly time well spent. This goes double for email addresses – always make sure you are sending your email to the person you intend to send it to.
7. Respond to everything
Even if it wasn’t meant for you, respond to it. Even if you’re going to respond to it in full later on, respond now and say so. Let others know you are engaged and committed, even if you are too busy to engage with them completely right now.
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