When you think of business communications, what comes to mind? A series of webinars? A communications strategy? Several pieces of marketing collateral? That’s fair, but more often than not, it’s something we all do several times a day without even thinking much about it: Writing an email.
Does an effective business email need as much time and attention as these other, more comprehensive projects? Good question!
Recently, my best friend, who would be first to declare that she’s “not a communicator,” asked me if 20 minutes is too long to spend writing an email. I’ll tell you what I told her: It depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
If your email confirms you’ve received somebody else’s message, yep, 20 minutes is too long. If you want to convey an important message that requires the recipient to open it from a full inbox, and give it the appropriate attention and action? Then, no way! Twenty minutes feels about the right time to write an effective business email.
Most people get about 122 emails a day. On average, we spend only 11.1 seconds reading each before we move on or hit delete. Your goal is to figure out how to compete in those crowded in-boxes. No easy feat, but these tips can help reduce the time you need to write effective business emails.
- Start with a meaningful subject line. Don’t call your email “Need by Thursday.” Instead, try something more descriptive like “Transition Project Timeline – Review by Thursday.” This highlights key content, the action the recipient needs to take, and the deadline. All this the recipient even opens your now, more effective business email.
- Strike the right balance in tone, content, and simplicity. Write simply (and politely, of course) and include just enough information so your recipient understands what’s needed. Otherwise, you may find yourself answering follow-up questions in subsequent emails. It’s tempting to wax poetic and/or include everything there is to know about a project or subject. But, remember this is an email, not the next great American novel. The purpose of an effective business email is to deliver a specific, action-oriented message. (Use the telephone if a subject requires a lengthy conversation.)
- Use paragraphs or lists There is nothing duller than opening up an email and seeing one big wall of text. Remember, we live in the digital age, where people scan information on line. 55 percent of emails are now read on mobile devices. Reading emails on those small screens can be tricky. So make it easy for folks: Break your text up into short paragraphs or lists. Use numbers instead of bullet points if you think there will be a need to refer to a specific item later.
- State a clear call to action. Does the recipient need to give feedback or just their approval to move forward? Be specific. Ambiguous requests may result in unnecessary work and/or delays.
- Skip the humor and be professional. Along those same lines, use proper punctuation and language. Save the emoticons, acronyms, and excessive punctuation for casual communications. The elements that make jokes work, such as good timing, delivery, and tone, do not carry through in an email. While you may be funny in person, your joke may be misconstrued in an email. Humor and effective business emails do not mix.
- Check before you send. Before you hit send, reread your email and check for any typos, grammar errors, and misspelling. You might even want to print it out as editing on paper can often reveal things missed on screen. Double check the names and dates. See if anything needs more clarity to make your business email more effective. Depending on the stakes involved (e.g., going to a senior leader, a sensitive message, etc.), consider having someone else take a look at it before you hit send. A fresh pair of eyes often catches mistakes that someone too close to the work may overlook.
Use these tips and you’ll reduce the time needed to write effective business emails.