Tips for writing emails … Avoid P-E-S-T (and other advice)
Emails are great… but because of where and how we use them, it is easy to make mistakes. Read on for may advice.
Don’t let emails be a P-E-S-T
P ressure of workplaces makes us over hasty when sending emails – or not check and work, and therefore make mistakes.
E motions are hard to convey in text, and can easily be misread by readers who don’t know us etc. So, don’t email when annoyed, nor late at night/end of the week. Second, be careful of writing overly strong views (e.g. ‘best’, ‘worst’) and stating firm negatives (‘We don’t do that…’ and ‘We can’t help you’), which can sound rude and abrupt to the recipient. Third, be careful of using subtle emotions (like irony or humour) which people will not realise.
S eduction and speed of emails means we check up on them far far too often (Admit it!). And we often reply to them within minutes, which means without thought, pre-planning, checking or proofreading. Don’t be seduced into that way of working.
T echnology of emails means any errors we make are right there in print, and can’t be retracted. Which means that any typos and mistakes, plus personal/private remarks, might be shared with people that you didn’t mean to include. Oh no!
( You can also read my other blog posts on emailing: Tips for email and Coping with Inbox overload)
Use the subject line effectively
Be specific, and succinct.
Keep them updated as the conversation changes
You can put all your message in an email subject line, which saves people the bother of opening them, ending it with EOM = End of Message, eg ‘Please send a new toner to the HR Department, 2nd floor EOM’
Structure emails clearly
Many people have to deal with 50+ emails a day. Bear this in mind. To help them easily and rapidly digest your emails – so your emails are acted on and you don’t annoy them etc. – follow these principles:
- Use the inverted pyramid, which puts the information in decreasing order of importance.
- Keep to one subject per email, which avoids emails becoming long, as well as making it easier to follow a discussion and to find a relevant email later, via the subject line.
- Use a 3-part structure may be useful: (1) First, give the context to your email, e.g. ‘I am following up our meeting ….’ (2) Then provide the detail – ‘There are three ways I think we can help you… ‘ (3) And finally, what you want the person to do as a result (and your sign-off) ‘Can you get back to me by Friday?’
Be very careful of using negatives/strong wordings
Negatives can easily be misread in emails, where you can’t convey the tone etc. we can when we are Likewise, asking someone to do something can easily be misread as firm / rude.
Is an email always necessary?
- Think before you … Copy a message to someone else, use irony/emotions, use abbreviations/ use unusual typefaces and colours, etc…
- Avoid using email when … Issue is complex, has permutations, emotions or uncertainties involved, or it is delicate
- Make yourself popular by … Where applicable, you can end your email with one of these: No rush on this one … For your information only. NO action necessary … No reply needed.
How to manage a huge inbox of emails
- Technological ways – use folders and programmes to prioritise messages, auto-responders; flagging of priority levels; holding replies; limit use of cc/bcc to restrict replies.
- Behavioural ways – limiting how often you check; review prioritised messages daily; using sort by sender/date so you are not diverted to other messages; integrate responses into received email (changing colour/typeface); use holding replies .. and don’t be afraid to phone.
In summary – The 5 Ps
Purpose Think what you want to achieve and say before starting
Parts Three-part structure: Context / Information / Action wanted
Pause Don’t send immediately after writing, especially if long, tricky content, important, contentious, etc.
Polish Importance of re-reading and editing
Proofread Check for typos etc. before sending