Freelance Blog + technology

Guest Post: Writing a Business Email

By Andrew Norcross

By now, email has become a primary method of communication. In our personal lives, email makes it possible for ongoing conversations between friends and family, who are more and more stretched across the country and the world. Gosh, I remember the days of using AOL 2.7 on my old Macintosh Performa. Seems like a decade ago…oh wait. It was. Those emails were few and far between, and the structure and flow went just about everywhere.

But as I grew up and joined the business world, I can see how this cavalier attitude, coupled with an older generation attempting to learn new technology, has created a wasteland of bad emails. Writing a business email shouldn't be difficult, nor should it end up being the mess that many of our inboxes are filled with. By now, we should all know the basics: don't blindly use "reply all", use your spell check, use a standard font type and color, etc. But what about the rest? Here's a few things to remember:

  1. Subject lines matter - Nothing is worse that a subject line that, when read, gives the reader no idea what the subject is. Using vague terms discourages people from reading your email. While you're not looking to market anything, you still want to have people read what you've sent. While you don't want to include sensitive information, including an account number, particular client or product name, or some other simple identifier will go a long way to notifying the recipient what they're reading, and why .
  1. Get to the point - While conversing with friends, use whatever tone you want. Sprinkle as much English Lit dust on it as you'd like, and really prose it up. But leave that style in your personal inbox. When it comes to office correspondence, short and sweet is where it's at. Keep in mind that as more and more people are reading their email on Blackberries and other PDA devices, you've got a 4 inch screen to pour over. If the email starts becoming long, maybe it deserves a phone call, with a follow-up summary email afterwards. There is a reason people don't read novels on their PocketPCs.
  1. "Reply All" is ok, when used correctly - It's often that more than one person is involved in an ongoing issue, and an email chain ensues. So when responding, make an effort to point out what parts of the email pertains to each part. I've found that splitting the email into separate parts, and using some sort of heading for each person is extremely effective. It lets people focus on what part you want them to read, then they can work on their portion and you're not left with 3 responses to 1 question, and zero to another.
  1. Attach nothing, unless absolutely required – We all know the risks involved with viruses in email attachments . This goes hand in hand with the idea of brevity. What's worse than reading a 3 page email on a Blackberry? Trying to read a 10 page PDF. While there are times where the file is required, don't just attach them with a simple "see attached" message, unless you're on the phone with the person and they're waiting for it. It's always a good idea to give people an idea what is in the attachment, if they're in a situation where they can't immediately access the file.
  1. Use the signatures – Most companies use Microsoft Outlook as an email client. If that's the case, then use the functions! One of them is allowing for multiple signatures. I have my default signature, but I also use about 10 others. I've incorporated some "standard" responses into signatures, and using a quick right-click over an email signature will give you a list of all the ones you've created. You can even go as far as to include company logos . Simple, effective, and saves a lot of wasted time typing the same things over and over again. Also, depending on what your business is, you may want (or be required) to include a disclaimer or other policy statement.
  1. Remember the basics – Use clear spelling and grammar, don't use ALL CAPS, and avoid words like "urgent" and "important." They're all important. Also, using the little red exclamation point isn't going to get it read any faster.

Andrew Norcross blogs at Restless Like Me

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Guest Post: Writing a Business Email + technology