Six Tips For Writing More Impactful Email
When my kids were younger they loved books by Richard Scarry. They were populated with animals that did silly things and messed things up and got hurt — sort of like what kids do. One book that my children particularly enjoyed was Richard Scarry’s Please And Thank You Book. It was, as the title implies, about good manners.
It goes without saying that good manners are a good thing in the offline world. They’re also important in the online one as well, especially when it comes to email.
Over the years, I’ve tried — and continue to try — to improve how I write and respond to email. I like to observe how others craft their emails, to me, as well as to others. The ones whom I consider to have cracked the code are the ones that write as though they are speaking to you as they would offline. They write with an attitude of respect, dignity, and politeness. They exude enthusiasm. And they respond within a reasonable timeframe. If they don’t, they acknowledge the fact, and usually apologize.
Their email isn’t necessarily more formal, nor is their syntax, grammar, or spelling any better than others. But you know them when you read them — despite having to squeeze their personality and message into little grey letters on a white screen, their personality seems to shine through nonetheless.
There’s a tsunami of information to deal with each day, and an overloaded inbox can feel burdensome. Consequently, it’s easy to forget that email is a proxy for offline, in-person communication, and needs to be handled as such.
And, just like the technical metadata that each email contains which is so critical to its transmission yet is hidden from view, there’s another layer of metadata that is intangible yet equally important to the recipient.
These are the messages conveyed by the tone, style, length, and timing of your emails. They deliver important information about you, how you regard your relationship to the recipient, what your view is on the matter being dealt with in the email, and more.
Here are a few tips gleaned from years of reading and writing email (and messing things up every so often, like the animals in Richard Scarry’s wonderful books):
1. Try to imagine that you’re speaking face to face
Depending on how much you know about the person to whom you’re writing, and what your relationship is, imagine how she will react to what you are trying to say, and craft your message accordingly.
2. Like a spoken conversation, pay attention to your email “voice”
When writing email, we’re often so pressed for time and focused on delivering the content of our message that we sometimes forget how our words sound to the recipient. We might overlook the tone, style, and volume of our words, things that come more naturally and automatically when we speak.
For example, delivering criticism by email, no matter how constructive or well-intentioned, can have an outsized impact on the reader, or be misconstrued altogether, depending on your choice of words.
In the absence of visual or audio cues to communicate how we think or feel, we’re pretty much at the mercy of the pixels on the screen to get our message across. This means things like font style start to matter more. Using capital letters to get your point across, for instance, could make the recipient think YOU’RE SHOUTING AT THEM.
3. If you’re asking for something, explain why
There’s no need to provide long explanations for every single email request you make, but a little bit of background information or a rationale can go a long way toward motivating the recipient, demonstrating respect, and building trust.
4. Write as though your message could be shared with 10, 100, or 1 million people
It can happen — it has happened. Make sure you’re comfortable seeing your message broadcast to a wider audience. If you really do need to keep it confidential, check your encryption and confidentiality boxes, or just take the conversation offline (which is no guarantee of confidentiality, either, but that’s a topic for another post).
5. Respond in a timely fashion
Even if not immediately, and even if you can’t provide an answer or help the person who is asking. Admittedly, a hard one to do given the sheer volume of email these days.
6. And, like Richard Scarry suggested, try saying “Thank you” and “Please”, at least just a little more often
It adds a human touch to otherwise impersonal technology.
(One final parting point)
When you feel you’re not getting far with an email conversation (oxymoron, anyone?), then do the old-fashioned thing and pick up the phone.