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.

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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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Hello 2014 – Fare Well, 2013!

Over last weekend, I’ll bet many of you, like me, were busy packing away ornaments, deciding which candles can be used again, and trying to find a youth organization to give our retired trees to for recycling. Or at least, again, like me – thinking about it!

And now it’s serious back-to-work time. Time to try something new. I’m not quite ready for 2014 yet – what happened to 2010, anyway? So, with a final salute, let’s wrap up 2013 with the Best of the Blog – a short collection of my top nineteen posts of that year, as judged by the number of “likes” each garnered. An “e-book” for want of a better name, and the first e-book I’ve ever done.

I’d like to give this compilation to you as a thought-starter. A new way of thinking about your writing. Or maybe as a way to address a New Year’s resolution to strengthen your on-the-job writing, making it faster, easier, and more effective. Totally free. Please email me (gail@gailtycer.com), and I’ll send you the free link.

We’ll talk about:

1. If You’ve Ever Said, “I Wasn’t Good at English in School…” Read This!

2. How to Say It When You Can’t Think of What to Say

3. Shorter, Fewer Emails

4. Strategic Email

5. Meeting Minutes

6. Writing a Successful Instruction

7. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Getting Started

8. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Finishing Strong

9. How to Write a Business Thank You Note

10. Nine Places to Find Ideas for Your Blog Post

11. “Spin”

12. Hide, Hedge, Mask, and Cloud?

13. How to Offend, Anger, or Frustrate Without Realizing It

14. How Many Common Writing Errors Do You Make?

15. Stronger, More Powerful Sentences

16. What Was That Again?

17. Words That Create Mix-Ups

18. Words, Words, Words…

19. Fatigue-Reducing, Confidence-Building Phrases

We’ll also include a few of our weekly Quick Tips, answering some of those pesky grammar questions.

So here’s to 2013, wrapped up with a bow – and on to a great new year: 2014. Let me know how I can help you to achieve your business writing goals this year. I’m totally committed to helping you write less, say more – and get results in 2014.

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

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, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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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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Five Tips to Get Your Email Read and Answered

by Alan Taylor, Guest Blogger

TwoBusinessPeopleEmail today is both a blessing and a curse. While it is a quick and effective way to communicate, it can also be a huge burden when used to avoid personal contact or when used excessively. If you work for a mid- to large-sized company, chances are you deal with well over 100 email messages a day – a majority of which are either unnecessary or unnecessarily long. Chances are also – big company or small – that you don’t respond to every email that needs responding to – even with the best of intentions. With that in mind, here are some tips to help you get your email read and an answer to your email faster:

1.     Be brief – Get to the point and stop. If it takes more than two paragraphs to make a point, the subject most likely requires a face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation. There are great benefits in live discussions that typically aren’t realized in email. Another way to be brief: Don’t repeat yourself.

2.     Keep to one subject per email – Covering numerous disparate subjects in a single email bogs the reader down. Each additional subject distracts from the others and typically ends with lost actions and confused responses. If you need to list multiple items within a single subject, use bullets or numbers to keep things organized.

3.     Take advantage of the subject line – be as descriptive as possible in the subject line. Instead of “Important Reminder,” say “Important Reminder: 7/23@5:00PM Charity Run, don’t forget water.” This lets the reader get most of the information in the subject line. The body of the email can then be used to list additional reminder items. OR:

4.     Use only the subject line – (If you work for a very large company, like Intel, you probably already know this) If your email is only a reminder to bring water to an already-announced run, use (EOM – End Of Message) in the subject line: “Important Reminder: 7/23@5:00PM Charity Run, don’t forget water (EOM).” Readers learn quickly and also appreciate brevity in emails. The first few times you use this, you can include the phrase “(EOM) means ‘End Of Message’” in the email body. After that you can just send the email with no body message. Win, win: You save time by not having to repeat yourself in the email body and your reader gets the message without having to open your email. It’s like an Instant Message when you don’t have the recipient’s IM address!

5.     Highlight actions needed – If there is specific action in an email that someone needs to take, highlight it using asterisks or underlines. Don’t use all caps (it looks like you’re shouting). This helps the reader focus on the items needing action.

A large reason Instant and Text messaging is so popular is the forced brevity of the messages. If email were forced to 140 characters or less, chances are there would be a big productivity jump since people aren’t wading through long, repetitive emails.

There are thousands more tips like these and we bet you have some of your own. Please add your tips in the discussion thread below!

Alan Taylor is this week’s guest blogger. He runs his own consulting business, Alpine Technical Group, which focuses on web presence including website design, SEO/SEM, social and online marketing. 

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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Business Writing Tip of the Week: Strategic Email

Joseph Pulitzer said:

“Put it before them briefly, so they will read it, clearly, so they will appreciate it, picturesquely, so they will remember it, and above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light.”

That goes double for email.emailIcon

Ask yourself:

  1. What am I writing? To whom? Why?
  2. What will happen when I am successful?
  3. What tone is needed to get these results?
  4. What content will get these results?

Figuring out what you want to do BEFORE you start doing it is critical for many reasons. You will virtually eliminate writer’s block; the writing will flow far better, making it infinitely more readable; your reader will have a much better chance to “get it,” thereby enhancing their impression of you as a credible professional; and when properly presented, your writing will have a greater chance of achieving what you need.  When you spend a little more time up front to think, to plan, you will spend a whole lot less time writing.

In an informal medium like email, all the rules we used to work with sometimes seem to melt away. Email is so much easier, so much faster, so much better – isn’t it? It sure can be. But it needs the same thought, the same planning that business writing has always required. In the business situation the same attention to grammar, usage, and format still applies.

Unfair though it may be, your reader also still judges you, and your organization by the only things he or she may know about you. So, unless you have established, or reinforced a relationship with that reader in addition to your email correspondence, perhaps through such activities as phone calls, meetings, or working together on a project, the only things he or she knows to judge you on are (1) how well you use the language; and (2) how quickly, and how well he or she “gets” what you are trying to say.

So take a look at that piece of email.

1. Overall, is it no more than a screen to a screen-and-a-half? If you have more to say, did you prepare an attachment for the longer message, and use the main email as a “cover letter” introducing your attachment?

2. Does your first paragraph – not more than a maximum of five lines – inform the reader of exactly what you want him or her to know? Or, does it persuade him or her to take a specific action? Is there any ambiguity? After the first five lines, is your reader immediately “in the picture”? Does he or she “get it” at a glance?

3. If you have a message detailing a number of steps or processes, are the details well presented in the next paragraph or two, following a logical, well-organized pattern?

4. Have you written – or not written, as appropriate – a good, strong close? Remember that just quitting after you have said what you need to say, is also an option, and may be a very good one.

5. Overall, how does this piece “read”? It’s all about the reader now. Knowing what you know about your reader, put yourself firmly in his or her shoes. What questions might your reader still have, after reading this email?

And then, still looking at it from that reader’s point of view, how would you expect him or her to feel about what you have written? Neutral? Happy? Angry? Depending on how you expect that reader might feel about what you have written, what can you expect him or her to do, as a result of those feelings?  And then, what, if anything, do you need to do to be ready for that response?

6. Is it possible to put your reader completely in the picture in five lines, or fewer? If so, most readers would rather read no more than five lines than they would several pages. Of course this assumes that from those five lines your readers know exactly how your message applies to them, what they need to do, and how they need to do it, if action is required of them. “Action” can mean anything from how to go out and physically do some action, to how to think about, or change the way you think about an issue or a process.

These are the steps to take to “put your reader in the picture.” This is the way to “Put it before them briefly, so they will read it, clearly, so they will appreciate it, picturesquely, so they will remember it, and above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light.”

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe.

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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Good manners, good email

Consider 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.
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