Your Best Email Strategy

Very few writers realize that there are four different types of email, and that it’s important to determine which type you will be writing before you begin.  Each will be somewhat different from the other three.

The four types of emails are (1) the “original” email, which should be no longer than a single screen to a screen and a half at the very most; (2) the response to the original email, no more than a screen; (3) an attachment, usually a much longer piece; and (4) the cover letter for the attachment, usually a screen or less. Frequently a who-what-when-where-why-how paragraph, no more than five lines,  telling the reader what you are sending, will do it.

Shorter is better today, as long as you cover what needs to be said.

Important as the mechanics of writing are – and they absolutely are – that’s only the first half of what you must know to write effectively – to write for results.

The second part of writing for results is your strategy. So let’s pick up there from last week. For business writing, a well thought out strategy is crucial to getting the results your writing is meant to achieve.

Let’s take a longer look at the starting point for developing a solid strategy,

The Four Critical Questions:

  1. What is the piece I am writing?

Are you using an email when a USPS letter could be more effective? A phone call when a text might get you better, faster results? Are you trying to avoid the personal touch by using an impersonal medium rather than a personal contact? Is email the best way to communicate with your potential reader? It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, and the best way to achieve that goal with this specific reader.

Achieve that goal? While it may seem incontrovertible that of course you want the reader to read what you have written, consider the possibility that your strategy might be better served if that piece is not read at all! I leave that one to you and your good judgment.

So question #1 to ask yourself:  (a) Should I pass this particular piece of information along at all?  (b) If so, should I pass it along in writing? By email? And then, if so,  (c) Do I want the reader to read this piece, or not?

2. To whom?

So who is this prospective reader? Who should he or she or they be? Think about who your real reader is. Are you writing directly to the decision-maker? To the gatekeeper, the person who frequently decides whether or not the decision-maker will get the material you’ve sent? To the influential, the person who has the most “say” in what the decision-maker decides?  To all of the above?

What do you know about the attention span of your potential reader(s)? Does this mean a “just the facts ma’am” communication, or does your potential reader want all the details. And how does he, she, or they want it presented? How long should your piece be if you want your readers to read it?

Question #2 to ask yourself: How will I need to adjust my writing – if it all – based on the answers to these questions?

3. Am I informing? Or persuading?

This decision is possibly the most critical of the four critical questions. Here’s where you break down writer’s block. Here’s where you tighten up your writing. Here’s where you cut to the chase, and quit rambling.

Let’s define “informing” in the context of this discussion. By “informing” I mean you are just providing information. You have no vested interest. What the reader does with the information is up to the reader.

“Persuading,” is a completely different matter. You do have a vested interest. You do care what the reader does with the information you provide.

Think about each of these two pieces:

(1) I am going to write a one-page email to Joe Jones informing him of the changes to our XYZ process (information side).

(2) I am going to write a one-page email to Joe Jones persuading him to implement the new changes to our XYZ process (persuasion side).

How will they differ? How will you write each?

4. Of What? To do what?

Focus in.  (1) On the information side, what are you informing your reader about?  (2) On the persuasion side, what do you want your reader to do? These are really the key questions which, if left unanswered, will keep your thought process in a muddle.

Once you can clarify your answers, a remarkable thing happens: The piece almost writes itself!

Now you’re ready to consider the results this piece needs to achieve; the tone you will use to get those results; and the content you will include, based on the reader’s need and use for this information, and your purpose for writing it.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Five Ways to Strengthen Your Email

Have you ever had an email “send” before you were ready to turn it loose? Who hasn’t experienced this awkward moment and its subsequent follow-up? Today, let’s talk about the fail-safe way to avoid this situation, as one of our five ways to strengthen your email.

  1. A participant in one of my workshops came up with this tip: To avoid “sending” before you are ready, leave the “to” line blank until you are ready to send. Check your piece over for grammatical, usage, and strategic missteps, and then address and send it.
  2. Consistently reply promptly, and you will stand out in a very positive way. One of the most common questions asked is always, “How do I get people to respond to me?” At all. Let alone promptly. If you do not have the answer at your fingertips, or do not have time to provide a lengthy answer right then, answer that email with a reasonable expectation for the reader, e.g., “I will send that information later this afternoon.” Or, “I can have that report for you by Friday.” This is what our reader needs. This is what we need to do.
  3. Watch the tone of your email carefully. Texting has become the “short answer” medium. Frequently you’ll see “Yes.” Or “Can’t.” or “Don’t know.” But email has a little more leeway. So, with email, keep your message as short as you possibly can, and still provide the information using the best tone. Any message of more than a screen to a screen-and-a-half should be broken into a “cover letter,” and an attachment. The reader’s eyes have a virtually unconscious reaction to reading on the screen, which may cause irritation – both to the reader’s eyes and to your message!
  4. Remember that there are four types of email: (1) the original that you write; (2) your response to someone else’s email; (3) the cover letter for (4) the attachment. Decide which you are writing, especially if it is just a one-paragraph cover letter for the attachment, where the “meat” of your message may be found.
  5. Conventional wisdom says limit each email to one subject, and use the subject line only for that subject (as compared against carrying on with the same subject line for a variety of subjects). Good advice. It’s so much easier to find your message if you do this. Where the problem comes in is when you have a lot of different issues to discuss – each of them short, and in total all of them over-populating your reader’s in box. In this case, consider using an umbrella subject line covering the overall purpose of the email, or enumerating the two or three issues the email may deal with.

See you next week!

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Business Email “Netiquette”

A combination of the words “network,” and “etiquette,” the term “netiquette” is basically what has been called good manners, applied to technology.

NetiquetteBut while most of us can state a few of the universals (such as using all capital letters can be interpreted as shouting – don’t do it), which indeed is universally the case, there are distinct differences between email in business, emailing friends and family, and email in the school situation, to be considered.

For example, some authorities recommend using emoticons (smiley faces, frowning faces, and so on) as good shortcuts – in the informal situation. Most agree they should not be used in a business email. So let’s take look at six serious tips for effective business email netiquette.

1. Many companies and organizations provide a sort of style manual with netiquette guidelines to clarify for their employees what is acceptable, and what is not, in their emails. In addition to matters of safety, basic courtesy, and privacy, these guidelines define how that company, or that organization wants to be represented to its various email audiences.

2. Do not send to a list, or “reply all” without first knowing who is on that list, and removing anyone who does not need to receive a particular email. Time after time, in every discussion of effective email, the winner of the “ineffective award” is the practice of sending everything to everyone. A major time-waster within the organization, a source of irritation, and an invitation to the potential reader to delete without reading. This result is compounded when the writer becomes known for sending, or replying to all – whether they need the information, or not.

3. Be careful of the tone you use. While you obviously are not about to correct a client, or a superior in your organization, avoid the temptation to “reply all” – especially when a co-worker makes a mistake – maybe a spelling error, using the wrong word, giving an overlong answer, or asking a “stupid question.” It’s important to maintain a teamwork mentality. Minor errors internally can often be ignored. If the error is more serious, discuss the issue privately, or with an email only to the individual involved.

4. Don’t impose on your reader’s time. Keep your messages focused, and as short as possible. Many people use mobile devices and phones for email, in most cases making a long message difficult to read. Focus will help to get your email read, make your point, or provide information as quickly, and as briefly as possible.

Keep in mind that while the common abbreviations, e.g., LOL (laugh out loud), BTW (by the way), or BRB (be right back) are used to write faster, and shorten the message in an informal email, they are neither professional nor appropriate in the business situation.

5. Avoid giving offense. Keep in mind, and be sensitive to the cultural and language differences among your readers. Use good taste certainly in the business situation, and also when writing to your other email readers. Avoid profanity, slang that could be misunderstood, and rude, hurtful, or judgmental comments. Things that may seem funny when spoken often come across the wrong way in email.

6. Be professional. Use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Spellchecker can be a good starting point, and your spelling, grammar, thesaurus, and dictionary tools are just a fingertip away. Be sure to do a final personal “eyeball check” before hitting “send.”

Additionally, use a professional email address for business correspondence. Avoid an address that could be construed as too informal, suggestive, or carry a possible negative connotation.

Please comment below, and share your favorite email pets and peeves!

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Good Manners, Good E-mail

Good and Bad manners in e-mailConsider the tone of your message.  Tone is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader.  Even though email is a friendly medium, it’s tough to make humor (especially humor clothed in sarcasm) or tongue-in-cheek comments work in email, and it’s best to avoid them.  Also avoid personal comments about others, or knee-jerk emotional responses – email is no place for sarcasm, hostility, cynicism, or whining.

Remain professional at all times.  Consider waiting a bit before emailing a “sensitive” message.  Avoid “venting,” vulgarity, or certainly, any kind of profanity.  Think about your corporate culture, or prevailing attitude – which can be especially critical for emails to co-workers.
If you receive an email that you cannot answer immediately – perhaps one requesting information requiring research, or an answer that needs more time to put together, let your reader know right away that you have received his or her message, that you are, or will be working on it, and approximately when you will be able to respond.

Allow sufficient time. Your email could be received within minutes – or hours.  Even though your system may interrupt to announce a new message, it’s best to avoid time-sensitive communications (e.g., announcing a staff meeting in half an hour).  Email is designed for convenience, not necessarily for immediacy.

Remember that email is a two-way communication.  Consider what your reader has to say on an issue. Do not assume that no answer means agreement – or even understanding.

On deadline issues, ask for the follow-up, confirmation, or answers you need by a certain date.   If you get no acknowledgement, follow up until you do.  Consider international time differences, and take cultural expectations and practices into account when emailing internationally. Here’s an interesting comment we hear often: If everything you write is “important,” with a deadline attached, the reader may tend to discount the importance of anything you write.

 

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Before You Hit “Send”: Final Email Checkpoints

WomanatComputer175

Unless it’s an attachment, odds are that in most cases your email will be fairly short – a screen to a screen-and-a-half maximum. And because we write so many of them, we need to write them quickly. The shorter, the better – and out of here!

Business writing is a tool to get a job done. To make it easier for your email to do its job and avoid snags along the way, here are ten quick things to check before you send it.

1. First of all, ask yourself, “Should this information be passed along at all?” If not, don’t.

If Yes, Continue reading

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Ten Tested “How To’s” for Clearer Writing

womanTyping250How frustrating! You put a great deal of thought into that last memo or instruction, and your co-worker doesn’t get it. You thought you had a good plan for this piece. So what happened? Let’s take a look at our “how to” checklist – 10 quick and easy things you can do to help your writing communicate clearly; to help your reader “get it” at a glance.

Continue reading

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A Heartfelt Thank You, and More About Email

May you have a truly joyful holiday season! Thank you so much for being a loyal reader of this weekly blog. Your emails and comments mean a great deal.

Now let me share a couple of emails on last week’s postHappyHoliday240:

“That first tip is such a good idea. I got one message from someone I doubt would have sent it if she had taken the time to think it over before sending – and perhaps would have modified the tone. It changed my opinion of her permanently….I think prompt replies are a must, too. Your ideas certainly make for a more civil society.”

Thank you, Carla. Not only is a “civil society” a more pleasant environment to live in, but in the business situation, leads to greater productivity!

“I enjoyed your latest post. I learned Tip #1 the hard way when I inadvertently sent something out prematurely. It wasn’t a disaster, but it conditioned me to the possibility, so any sensitive e-missive gets addressed after it’s finished.”

“I have another email tip….use structure to make your emails easy to absorb….My rule is  ‘aim for one screen’s worth, but spread it out so people can see the whole, note the pieces, and get to your point quickly.’”

Thank you, Harry. I like to say that writing is a visual art. How it looks on the screen (or on paper) can determine how – or if – your reader will “get it,” remember it, and act on it.

Here’s another email tip for today:

There are four types of email: (1) The original email; (2) the reply; (3) the cover letter for an attachment; and (4) the attachment. Each is handled slightly differently.

(1)   In the original email, aim for one paragraph, not more than five lines. This should work for at least half of your emails, if you tell your reader who-what-when-where-how.

(2)   Many times, the reply, like the original you are replying to, can be answered in one paragraph, five lines or less. In no case should either the original, or the reply, be longer than a screen to a screen-and-a-half. If your reply needs to be longer than that, make it an attachment with a cover letter.

(3)   The cover letter will be short. Most of the time it will be that one paragraph, not more than five lines, telling the reader why you are sending the attachment, and what he or she is to do with, or about it, and when.

(4)   The attachment should be concise – that is, as short as you can make it, while still giving all the information needed. It can be printed out for the reader to read more easily. Printing it out reduces the potential irritation caused to the eye, as well as to your message, when there is too much to read comfortably online.

See you next week!

If you like what you’re reading, please subscribe to our blog.

We’ll be happy to bring a Gail Tycer workshop to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Five Ways to Strengthen Your Email

WomanatComputer175

Have you ever had an email “send” before you were ready to turn it loose? Who hasn’t experienced this awkward moment and its subsequent follow-up? Today, let’s talk about the fail-safe way to avoid this situation, as one of our five ways to strengthen your email.

1. A participant in one of my workshops came up with this tip: To avoid “sending” before you are ready, leave the “to” line blank until you are ready to send. Check your piece over for grammatical, usage, and strategic missteps, and then address and send it.

2. Consistently reply promptly, and you will stand out in a very positive way. One of the most common questions asked is always, “How do I get people to respond to me?” At all. Let alone promptly. If you do not have the answer at your fingertips, or do not have time to provide a lengthy answer right then, answer that email with a reasonable expectation for the reader, e.g., “I will send that information later this afternoon.” Or, “I can have that report for you by Friday.” This is what our reader needs. This is what we need to do.

3. Watch the tone of your email carefully. Texting has become the “short answer” medium. Frequently you’ll see “Yes.” Or “Can’t.” or “Don’t know.” But email has a little more leeway. So, with email, keep your message as short as you possibly can, and still provide the information using the best tone. Any message of more than a screen to a screen-and-a-half should be broken into a “cover letter,” and an attachment. The reader’s eyes have a virtually unconscious reaction to reading on the screen, which may cause irritation – both to the reader’s eyes and to your message!

4. Remember that there are four types of email: (1) the original that you write; (2) your response to someone else’s email; (3) the cover letter for (4) the attachment. Decide which you are writing, especially if it is just a one-paragraph cover letter for the attachment, where the “meat” of your message may be found.

5. Conventional wisdom says limit each email to one subject, and use the subject line only for that subject (as compared against carrying on with the same subject line for a variety of subjects). Good advice. It’s so much easier to find your message if you do this. Where the problem comes in is when you have a lot of different issues to discuss – each of them short, and in total all of them over-populating your reader’s in box. In this case, consider using an umbrella subject line covering the overall purpose of the email, or enumerating the two or three issues the email may deal with.

See you next week!

If you like what you’re reading, please subscribe to our blog.

We’ll be happy to bring a Gail Tycer workshop to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Shorter, Fewer Emails

Wow! Would that be great, or what? Not so many emails to save – or not. Not so many emails to plow through – most of them mislabeled – to find what you are looking for. Emails you can “get” at a glance and move on with your day’s work!

Your reader feels exactly the same way. No surprise there. So how do you write a faster, clearer email that your reader will get at a glance? And fewer of them?WomanatComputer175

Let’s begin with the basics:

1. Here’s the basic question you need to ask yourself before any on-the-job communication: Does this information need to be passed along at all? My workshop participants frequently tell me that this one consideration can cut as many as half of their emails!

There are many reasons for passing information along in the business situation. Some of them appropriate, others not. Obviously, information should be passed along if it has been requested, or if it is necessary for your reader to work on an assignment. But before you pass this piece of information along in any manner, take a minute to give some serious thought to any other reason you may want to do so, and how what you choose to do with it – send it or withhold it – may be interpreted.

2. If you have decided that yes, the information does need to be passed along, ask yourself (a) who it should be sent to; and (b) the best way to reach him, her, or them.

3. If you have decided to write an email, rather than picking up the phone, texting, or arranging some sort of face-to-face – oh, and don’t forget “writing on paper” as a possibility – let’s get started!

Now that we have taken care of the “fewer” question, let’s tackle “shorter.”

First, decide just what “shorter” really means. Do you, instead, mean “concise”? As short as it can be, while still providing the necessary information?

As for length, your entire email should be not more than a screen, to – pushing it a bit, a screen- and-a-half. Anything more than that should be an attachment.

Your goal is to get all the information into one paragraph, not more than five lines.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Determine why you are writing this email. What is its job? What must this email accomplish?

2. In five lines or less, your first paragraph must tell your reader who, what (the action), when, where, why, and how. For a simple issue, this will probably take care of it, and be all you need.

3. For a more complex matter, the first paragraph will be a “set up paragraph,” like a cover letter, for an attachment. In either case, the first paragraph, not more than five lines, puts the reader in touch – at a glance – with what this is all about, and what he, she, or they need to do about it. If an action is required of your reader, it may also be useful to include “your action required” in the subject line, when appropriate.

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter. We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

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What Makes You Open an Email Immediately?

Take a moment to consider: What is it that makes you open an email immediately? For most email readers, it’s either (1) who sent it; or (2) what it’s about.TwoBusinessPeople175

There may not be much you and I can do about being who we are, rather than our boss, our most important client, or the head of the company, but there is a great deal we can do about the subject — specifically about the subject line. Here are some ways your subject line can help get your email read:

  • Always use a subject line. Simple, to the point, and short: 50 characters or fewer. Not only does this bring your reader up to speed quickly, but it helps to move you up in your reader’s priority list. Your email may be competing with hundreds of others to be read at all, let alone promptly. A good subject line helps your email say, “read me now.” If you are asking for action, or on a deadline, it may be helpful to include that in your subject line.
  • Use additional communication tools. Occasional phone calls, in-person conversations — can also help to move you up in your reader’s priority list. All things being equal, we’ll open the email from someone we have a friendly relationship with sooner than someone we don’t know. That human relationship, the personal touch, can supplement what might otherwise be a virtually anonymous medium.
  • Limit your emails to those who really need the information. Resist the temptation to send that email to everyone on the list, even though it’s so much easier just to hit the group send. And then ask yourself not only whether each person on the list needs to have this information, but overall, “Does this information need to be passed along at all?” If not, don’t. Respect others’ time.
  • Think about the corporate culture. Many readers feel that being “cc’d” means this email is more of an “fyi,” and not that important for them to read. They may either not read it at all, or put off reading it until later. List the reader as a primary recipient if you want him or her to read your email. Also, keep in mind that a “Re:” will seem more important, and garner better readership than a “Fwd:”
  • Many email writers like to include (brief) content in the subject line: “Marketing meeting 2 p.m. Tuesday 4/20” and then provide additional details in the body of the email. The theory is similar to the old direct mail “hook” — give them the information quickly, the details in the supporting copy.

And then, make sure that your email delivers what the subject line promised. Make it short and concise. Help the reader “get it” at a glance — in the first three to five lines. Make it easy for your reader to do what you are asking him or her to do. Check your email frequently, and be easy to get back to.

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter. We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

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