Tips for Professional Email

It took me a long time to figure out how to do effective email. And it’s really not that hard. Some of this stuff is already out on the WWW, but I’m gonna boil it down for IT professionals. Read on for some tips that I’ve found very handy in getting the most out of email. Of course, the assumption I’m making here is that it is your ultimate intent to communicate as effectively as possible through your emails.

Always Type Something In The Subject: Line

This seems like an obvious one, but it’s surprisingly prevalent. The biggest culprit is the “Manager-In-a-Hurry” syndrome (which affects more than managers), where the sender is clearly so busy that the mere presence of their name on the email warrants its immediate attention, regardless of the subject matter (hence the subject: line being extraneous). Sometimes, the sender is just trying to include you, and, more often than not, the body of the email contains “FYI…” or some other sentence with fewer than 10 words alluding to the ongoing thread (which originated w/o a subject line, btw).

A subject: line tells the recipient something about your email. Whether or not it’s urgent, a little something about the content, that type of thing. Imagine a newspaper article without a headline. You have to begin reading the article before you have any idea what it’s about. Can you imagine that?

Read The Whole Email

Ever read an email with several questions in it, and only answer the last one? Yeah, the person you replied to wants to come by your office/cubicle and strangle you. Trust me. Read the whole email. Seriously. Just do it. The sender took the time to be detailed. Have the courtesy to do the same. You may say, “I don’t have time” but, trust me on this one, if the issue is important, you will save time in the long run. If you make the (common) mistake of not reading the email, or answering one question out of, say, five that are asked, you will spend 3 times longer answering follow up emails. And (heaven forbid) a meeting may even be spawned to clear up the confusion. You like meetings? I don’t, but if you do, well, you’re sick. Get outta my blog!

Make a Habit of Hitting “Reply To All”

Ooh. Talk about making someone feel left out. Are you ever on an email thread and get an email with a bunch of replies in it that you never got? That’s because somebody at some point didn’t reply to all (which would have kept everyone in the loop) but hit “Reply” instead. I’ve done it. I’ll admit it, but only by accident. Hitting “Reply” instead of “Reply To All” is the equivalent of having a private conversation with the commensurate recipient. At some point, they may decided to pull the entire group back in, and then you look like a real jerk. Trust me on this one. That’s, of course, if they ever do pull in the entire group. Hey, private conversations are cool. But remember that when you hit “Reply” to an email with lots of recipients, that’s what you’re doing.

When you hit “Reply To All” you’re keeping everyone in the loop, as I mentioned, and that’s critical for communication. Everything is above-board and all cards (well mostly) are on the table. No earlier recipient is ever kept in the dark. That’s just a good thing.

Use Inline Comments

“See Comments Inline” as the body of your reply (“to all”, see above), is a nice way of making sure that your answers have all the context that you had in providing the answers. Remember, email is asynchronous communication, and days (or weeks) can pass between replies. So answering questions (or asking them, for that matter) using inline comments provides context to facilitate communication.

Ues a sepll cehcker

Ever get an email with a bunch of typos in it? Did it give you the feeling that the sender was in a hurry? Hey, we all get rushed, but if communicating is important, it’s important to show that you feel it’s important (get it?). Most email clients come with a spell checker, or some type of plug-in for one. If yours doesn’t, well, get one that does, or be *really* vigilant when proofreading your email (see next item).

Spell checking your email is like washing your hands before dinner. It’s just good hygiene. 🙂

Always proofread your email before sending

This is critical for important email that will go (potentially) to a large audience (remember, you never know who on the thread will end up forwarding your email to your boss, or your boss’ boss, etc.). Take a couple of minutes and read your email over before you hit “send.” Did you communicate what you intended? Did you come across too harsh? Did you include extraneous information?

Your ability to communicate says a lot about you, and a quick proofread of your email can make the difference between communicating and looking like an idiot (which often leads to more emails, and, ugh, meetings!).

What have I missed? Leave me a comment!

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