Online communication can be very difficult to navigate. Most of us realize that the majority of our messages are communicated non verbally through body language, tone and eye contact leaving us constant e-mailers in quite the predicament. Learning how to effectively communicate via email and relaying the appropriate tone to your reader is an art that few have mastered. I have scavenged the internet collecting best practices as well as what not to do advice to share with you. I am hopeful that this list of dos and don’ts will prepare you for email success moving forward.
Do respond promptly and appropriately to all emails; just because someone doesn’t ask for a response doesn’t mean that a quick “thank you” shouldn’t be sent. Leaving an email open ended can make the reader feel as though they are being ignored.
Do add personal touches and welcome tags to your emails, just as you would in normal face-to-face communication. A greeting is always nice to open up an email with before getting down to business. I like to open with these example greetings “I hope this email finds you doing well”, “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”. If you’re a client of mine and are reading this you have probably seen this on multiple occasions!
Do pick up informal cues from the person you’re communicating with. It is okay to tone the formality of your email down if your reader is replying back in simple fashion. At this point it is typically okay to leave off any formal salutation and shorten your emails to one line answers and explanations.
Do use appropriate sentence structure, punctuation and grammar. Always double check for correct spelling and read your email aloud or quietly to yourself multiple times before sending. Avoid incomplete sentences; they can easily translate into “cryptic thoughts” that will leave your reader feeling confused and frustrated. Oftentimes the best emails have been rewritten multiple times. If you’re unsure about your email set your pride aside and have a colleague look it over before sending it out. It is best to make a mistake with them than with an important client or customer.
Do keep it short and to the point. People are busy and don’t have time to read unnecessary information. Especially for business purposes you’ll want to make sure that you’re on topic and that your message is clear and simple to understand. The use of bullet points are helpful and a great strategy for condensing a large amount of information into smaller pieces. If you choose not to use bullet points try to only communicate necessary and relevant points to keep “back and forth” emailing to a minimum.
Do always provide an outlet for questions, just in case your reader needs help or is unclear of your message. I normally close every email with an open invitation to email back or call with questions or concerns. To help with this you’ll want to also make sure that you have a signature with your contact information listed for the reader’s convenience.
Do leave the “to” field of an email empty until you’re finished writing and ready to send. You never want to accidentally send an email before it is complete. By waiting until the end to fill in the “to” field with your intended recipients you’re playing it safe.
Do remember your manners. Manners are important for in person conversation however, they are even more crucial to successful email conversation. Because the lines of communication can easily be blurred the addition of every “please”, ”thank you” and “you’re welcome” helps to set the tone and keep it courteous for the reader. In addition to the use of basic manners, it is also polite to use upgraded language such as “absolutely” or “my pleasure”. You’ll be surprised at how impressed your readers will be by this small change.
Don’t send emotionally charged emails. If you’re having trouble keeping your personal feelings and business separate you may want to take a break to clear your head. Stepping away from the computer can be an excellent way to set aside your emotions before getting back to business. In cases like this I also recommend letting a colleague take a second look your email before sending just to make doubly sure that your tone is appropriate for the reader.
Don’t add patterned backgrounds, fancy fonts, colored text or emoticons. Although it can be fun to express yourself with pictures and in color you’ll have to save it for another time. With emails less is more. Readers want to know that you’re taking the conversation seriously and these additions relay an all but serious tone.
Don’t use ”Abbrev, !!!, and ALL CAPS”. Stay away from explanation points, especially multiple ones clustered together, this can come off as rude and impatient. The same goes for all caps and abbreviations. There are exceptions to every rule but it is best to avoid these habits for business email purposes. All caps communicates shouting and abbreviations can easily leave people confused and unsure, it’s a little more work to type it out but worth it for the sake of keeping communication clear.
Don’t use an irrelevant subject line. Be sure to keep your subject line brief and consistent with the topic of the email. It is also wise to eliminate the use of all caps on subject lines, even if it’s urgent, all caps can cause your email to be marked as spam. If it is urgent I suggest flagging the email as “important” or “urgent” instead of using all caps in the subject line.