If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you have an email account. You may well have several – perhaps separate accounts for professional and personal contacts.
It’s easy to assume that we know how to use email effectively: it’s been around for long enough. But if you find yourself struggling to communicate effectively by email, these six tips should help:
#1: Start With an Appropriate Salutation
Some people jump straight into the text of an email without so much as a “hi”. It’s polite to add a salutation, just as you would with a letter.
That might look like:
Dear Mr. Johnson
Your salutation needs to be appropriate. If you’re writing to a prospective employer, “Dear Mr. Johnson” is probably the best way to go. “Hi Bob” is going to look unprofessional.
But don’t assume that formality is always the right answer. If you’re writing to a friend of a friend, using “Dear” plus their surname is going to seem oddly stilted.
If in doubt, “Dear [firstname]” will usually work just fine.
#2: Get Straight to the Point
Your correspondent won’t want to wade through paragraphs of waffle – so get straight to the point. If you’re writing to someone out of the blue, don’t give them your life story before you make a request.
Getting straight to the point might mean that the first line of your email (after the salutation) looks something like this:
I’m working on an article about Acme Widgets for XYZ publication, and wondered if you had a few minutes to answer the following three questions.
Could you supply me with a quote for the following project?
I’d like to discuss the revisions with you. Would Tuesday at 2pm be a good time?
I’ve attached the documents you requested at our meeting yesterday.
You may well need to include more details, but if you put the important point up front, your email is more likely to get a timely response. If your question comes too far down, the recipient may not even realise that you need a reply.
#3: Keep it Short
Try to keep your email as short as possible. Make the paragraphs short, too – long paragraphs can be difficult to read and take in.
Do make sure you give enough information for your correspondent to be able to make a decision, if that’s required. You might find that it’s best to offer this as an attachment – you’ll have more flexibility over formatting, and your correspondent can print out the attachment easily.
#4: Use Numbered Points
If you’ve got several questions or points to make, it’s very helpful to number them. This makes it easy for the other person to respond to each one, especially if some just require a yes/no response or a single word answer.
Could you let me know:
- 1. How much it would cost for the website design
- 2. How much for the website design plus a tri-fold brochure
- 3. Whether you could complete #2 by the end of April
It’s also useful to list your questions or points as bullets in this way; if you write a single paragraph, some of your questions might get missed.
#5: Re-read and Use Spell-Check
A typo or spelling mistake can turn one word into an entirely different one. If you’re using email in a professional capacity, that mistake could be embarrassing – or even offensive. It might alter the whole meaning of your email: a missing “not”, for instance, could potentially cause problems.
Spell-check should help you avoid any silly mistakes – but use your eyes and brain too. There are plenty of words that spell-check won’t pick up. If you’re emailing from a device with predictive text and an auto-correct feature, make sure you always re-read what you’ve typed.
#6: Make Your Signature Useful
Do you have an email signature? (That’s the text that appears automatically at the bottom of your email.) Some people don’t use one at all; others have a funny quote or favorite saying.
Whether you’re using email for professional or personal reasons, make your signature useful for both you and your recipient. That might mean:
- Giving the link to your website
- Including your work address and/or phone number
- Adding links to your social media accounts
- Putting in a line to promote your recent book / blog / product
If your email provider allows it, you may even want to create several signatures to use for different purposes (e.g. one for emailing friends, one for new business contacts).
Do you have any great tips to add? Or any pet hates that crop up in your inbox? Let us know in the comments…