Did you know that communication is vital for economic growth and reducing poverty?
I recently read about a survey of firms, carried out in 56 developing countries. It found that firms using effective communication “grow faster, invest more, and are more productive and profitable than those that do not“.
The written word is the most common form of communication. And it’s email that’s often used for messages longer than a few sentences.
“Even the perfect email will NEVER be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.”Rachael FitzGerald-Finch 2020, with apologies to Mr Charles Dickens
In other words, even writing the perfect email is only the second-best way of communicating. Talking face-to-face is the most effective. When we speak with each other, all that body language gives us clues as to what the speaker is really saying and lets them be convincing and persuasive.
However, our information age has changed how we communicate. With only 24 hours in every day, it’s just not possible to have verbal conversations with everybody you want to get in touch with.
And, with the technology available to us now, people expect to be contacted pretty quickly and organised efficiently.
We’re using computers and networks more and more all the time. This means the need to be able to write properly is growing, especially if we want to communicate within a team, be it for business, charity, or even between families.
So, if you want to communicate efficiently and effectively, whether to grow your business, develop your relationships, or manage your life, you need to be able to write the perfect email.
And to write the perfect email, you need to know two things: how an email should be written and the golden rules to not cause offence and get the best from your online communication.
1. Email Address and Subject Line
No wacky email addresses! Just no.
Firstly, if your email is to be taken seriously, wacky email addresses are a no-no. People just don’t take these seriously, especially if you’re applying for a job. ‘email@example.com‘ just doesn’t cut it, somehow!
And we should only ever flag emails as ‘important’ very occasionally. Or, when you do need someone to prioritise something, they won’t bother. A bit like that story of the boy who cried wolf.
Don’t ‘reply all’
Do you ever get irritated by time spent reading emails that aren’t even meant for you? You know, those ones when someone’s hit ‘reply all’, instead of ‘reply’?
I do. And it’s such a waste of time, especially if the email is long.
So, be conscious of doing this when replying to emails. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is by taking a breath before hitting the ‘reply’ tab. It makes me think about what I’m doing rather than my finger moving of its own accord towards that ‘reply all’…
Another good habit is to write the perfect email first. Only fill in the address boxes after proofreading. This makes you think about it.
CC vs BCC
This one can be confusing.
In an email, the ‘To’ line is used for those recipients who you need an action from.
The ‘CC’ (or carbon copy) line is used only to keep people in the loop. However, it’s NOT a catch-all.
People should only be CC’d if they have requested it, or if you need to mention them in the body of the email. If you require a response, or an action from them, do not CC them. CC means that you’re sending the email only for their information, to let them know something.
So, if you are CC’d into an email, don’t reply unless it’s relevant to everyone in the email. You’ll be doing the electronic equivalent of butting in!
BCC (or blind carbon copy) is used for only two purposes: for mass emails, and for introductions. The purpose of it is to copy someone in but not let other recipients see this. If it sounds sneaky, it’s because it can be if it’s not used properly.
When sending out an invitation to a charity function, for example, all recipients should be BCC’d. This means that no one recipient can see the email addresses of anyone else. This is especially important nowadays because we can get into trouble for breaching data protection requirements. But it’s also courtesy too.
BCC can also be used for 1-2 emails after an e-mail introduction has been made. If you’ve been introduced to someone via email, it’s good practice to BCC the introducer to show you’re following up on the introduction. BCC’ing allows them know you’re following up but it also releases them from the email chain that follows. Most of the time though, they probably don’t want to have to read the whole conversation that follows.
One thing to member with BCC’ing is that eavesdropping is not a virtue. We really shouldn’t be blind copying people in just so they can see an exchange of emails without the recipient knowing about it. It’s not good manners and integrity and transparency really matter to relationships of any sort.
The subject line
Once you’ve hit ‘reply’ and you’ve got your email template up on your screen, you need a compelling subject line. This is far more important than people realise.
I often delete emails because there’s no subject or the subject line tells me it’s likely spam. This happens a lot when emails are sent from an address I don’t know. It allows me to filter what is worth my time reading and what is not.
The subject line is soooo important. It needs to be good if your intended reader is to open your email and read it. It sets the reader’s expectations about the great content enclosed!
Professional copywriters will often have a whole host of punchy phrases they’ll use for a subject line. According to Hubspot.com, one third of email respondents open an email based on subject line alone. So, it needs to be good.
However, most of my emails are more personal, so I don’t spend ages on a subject line. That said, I know if I send an email to my other half and it’s not eye-catching or meaningful, he ignores it…
2. The perfect email salutation
It’s always really important to start your email on a strong note by addressing your intended recipient in the right way.
Some email will be more formal than others depending on who you’re writing to and what you’re writing about.
Business email should be formal. However, sometimes if you know the recipient well, it can be semi-formal. Most personal email will be informal.
That said, email is considered less formal than a letter, so we get a bit of leeway here. ‘Hello Bob’ may be an ok email substitute for Dear Mr X, depending on the context.
Regardless of tone, every email should have a short greeting at the top, unless you’re part of an ongoing email chain.
3. Main Body
To write the perfect email body, you need a clear and specific purpose. And it needs to be to the point or people get bored!
And when somethings’ boring, many people will skim it or just not bother at all. Which is very frustrating for the writer.
To prevent boredom, inject your personality! Your email should sound like the interesting and fantastic person you are.
However, don’t go overboard but tailor the email to reflect your relationship with the recipient. This makes sure you sound professional when you need to be.
Another rule of thumb is to make sure your email sounds positive. Tone can be hard to get right. But, any email that sounds even a little bit negative can cause misunderstandings later on.
And remember, if your email is going on and on…give up and call your intended recipient. Short email, longer calls save everyone the pain!
4. The perfect email signature
As well as opening strongly, it creates a lasting impression by closing properly too. Your signature block is the last part of your email that someone will read. So, it pays to make it a great one!
For more formal emails, sign off as you would a letter. I.e. “Yours faithfully”, “Yours sincerely”, etc. In addition, work emails should have a signature block containing your full name, job title, organisation and telephone number, as a minimum.
But since many emails are used in more casual communication, often sign-offs like “Best wishes”, “Best”, “Cheers”,” All the best”, etc are absolutely fine.
Just don’t do the “love,” “thx,” or “sent from my iPhone”…
Email Golden Rules
So, that’s how to format the perfect email. But like everything else, guidelines for email etiquette exist. [Oh yes, they do!]
When I was in the Army, military writing was governed by rules and conventions collated together in a document called JSP 101. Allegedly, the Ministry of Defence likes to use plain English and clear communication…
You can guess what the problem with this document was though?
Yep, many people focussed so much on the rules that often the point of the document was lost altogether!
Fortunately, email [net]iqutte is not ths comprehensive. But there are 12 golden rules that, if followed, will stand you in good stead:
- Always maintain threads. If it’s a long thread, just be aware that sometimes only making a short comment like, ‘I agree’, may not be helpful. You need to remind the recipient of what it is you agree with.
- Don’t use too many attachments, especially if they’re big. Slow loading times are a pain.
- Don’t use sarcasm or subtle humour unless you know your reader ‘gets it’. I have a hard time with this! [I love dry humour!]
- Repeat after me… NEVER write the perfect email after drinking, when late at night or when you’re emotional…because you won’t! And, you’ll regret it. You know you will…
- Emojis…er, just, no. (Unless to someone very close to you.)
- CAPITALS LOOK LIKE SHOUTING! They’re also harder to read. However, they can be used to good effect if used sparingly though! (An older mentor of mine does this brilliantly…!)
- Don’t over punctuate!!!!!!! It’s actually exhausting to read and makes the writer look a little hyper.
- Don’t use text speak. Unless the reader understands it, text speak can make the writer appear only semi-literate. Never a great look!
- Don’t overwhelm people with chain letters, begging emails, YouTube links, etc It’s annoying.
- And strictly no bitching! It’s not nice. My mum used to tell me never to write anything down that I didn’t want the world to see. (This includes typos and bad grammar.) The same applies to digital media.
- Don’t reply before reading the email properly. I’ve often skim read emails, replied, and missed the point entirely. Take it from me, it’s embarrassing!
- Don’t be a keyboard warrior. Only ever say something in an email you’re prepared to say to someone face to face.
Sometimes it’s better not to use email at all, even the perfect email. Thank you letters are always better in the written hand. This makes so much more of an impact, especially today when most things are typed. It’s also far more personal.
Specific email writing topics
Write the perfect email introductions
When crafting email introductions, what works really well is to firstly say why you’re putting the two people in touch and for what purpose. What are you hoping to achieve with the introduction? But make sure you’ve agreed it with both sides before hand, or it can be embarrassing for all concerned.
If you need to introduce yourself directly, include the reason for doing so in the subject line. For example, ‘I’m a big fan of your work’. In the body of the email, make sure you explain who you are, what you do, why you’re getting in touch, and how you envision collaborating or working with the email recipient. It’s also useful to say how you’d like to be contacted and provide details.
Emailing in sick
Emailing sick? Be brief.
For example, etiquette consultant Cynthia Roden advises something like the following,
I will not be in the office today, as I am not feeling well. Should you need to reach me for anything, please feel free to call me at [phone number] or email me. I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you.”
And bonus points if you’ve already found cover and explained how you’ve solved any anticipated problems.
Setting up a meeting
If your recipient has a P.A., send a brief email explaining who you are, why you’re requesting the boss’s presence, what the meeting is for and hopes to achieve and how long it’s predicted to last. If there’s no P.A. then send it directly to your recipient.
It’s important to do this before the meeting invitation goes out to prevent any later awkwardness.
Made an email mistake?
Email back quick smart with an apology. There is no other way that limits the pain…
And lastly, use the Oxford comma!
Ever heard of the Oxford (or serial) comma? If not, you’ve probably seen it without realising it.
The Oxford comma is the final comma in a list of things. For example, ‘Please bring me a pencil, a rubber, and a ruler‘.
In this example, it’s the comma after ‘rubber’. Certain styles of writing will leave it out. But in an email, it’s worth making a rule to keep it in. It can help to avoid miscommunication. [The link is worth a look!]
This was actually quite a long post about writing an email! There are definitely many things to remember. However, the main purpose of an email is effective communication.
But, like many things, it’s a skill. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. And you’ll reap the productivity benefits of being able to write the perfect email!