I’m old enough to remember life without email. Believe it or not, when you needed to know something, you picked up the phone. And if they weren’t there, you left a message, often with a real live person. It wasn’t uncommon to skip the phone and simply walk over to the person’s office and talk to them. Really. Hard to believe in this era of email, texting, tweeting and a young generation who disdains even voicemail.

What have I learned in over 20 years of daily email use?

  • Sometimes it really is better to talk to the person. When the desired result would be easier to get with a quick conversation, do that.  When you want to pat someone on the back, send an email, and then go tell them in person how truly wonderful they are and why. When there’s tension, talk, preferably in person. Do we need to mention that you should never send an email in the heat of the moment?
  • Make subject lines work for you. Instead of something like “ABC project,” let people know what you need by using a subject line like “ABC stakeholders list needed 3/12.” Give the necessary details in the message, of course, but this subject line lets people know what action they need to take by when.
  • Figure out what you need to achieve.  This may sound obvious, but I’ve often sent emails to people without first zeroing in on the outcome I want. Do I need the person to take action, simply be informed, tell others, give me ideas, etc.? Thinking about the end goals of the communication before I write it helps me be clear, succinct and specific.
  • Don’t try to achieve too much in one email. Long, complicated, multi-faceted emails are destined to be confusing to readers. Keep your ideas to no more than three (really, one or two would be better), so people can track what you’re saying. Use bullets or numbered lists if you have more than one idea to communicate.
  • Don’t copy everyone. Give some thought about who the necessary audience is for your message. Don’t copy others, because most people receive a lot more email than they want or need already.
  • Assume everyone will read it. It’s been said that there are no secrets on the internet. Accept that fact that once your email is out there, it may be forwarded willy nilly (including to your boss, about whom you were just complaining via email to your coworker).
  • Be cautious with caps. Most people interpret all capital letters in an email as yelling. We don’t recommend yelling in person or via electronic communication.

What other email tips have you picked up over the years? Comment below or send us a message.

Photo by Arthur Bullard on Flickr.