What do you reckon: Are we all totally underestimating the importance of email nowadays?
Maybe because it gets lost in so much bloody spam, or because of alternative social comms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook?
A recent blog post reminded me recently that email is really the spine of social media.
And in a recent post on business etiquette in the American Express OPEN Forum, small business expert Steve Strauss wrote:
“Email is now the dominant form of business communication and should be treated as such. Some uniform policies help everyone stay on track.”
10 Never-Die Rules for Business Emails
We say that even with the “e” in front of it, it’s still JUST mail. It is your business communication. It’s not just sales.
And our being immersed in quick-and-flippant SMS communications does not by any means mean we shouldn’t pay attention to our own emails.
And if you’re going to do it – and let’s face it, you are – do it right. We think our simple list here is nothing we don’t all already know, but we all need the reminders.
We really hope this helps:
Rule 1. Keep it short
We’re all busy, busy people. Most of us are skimming our emails at a glance, looking for the key points, and trying to get in and out of them quickly. I’ve never written anything that wasn’t more useful when cut to half its length. I have a friend who NEVER scrolls down past the preview pane, so keep it breif
Rule 2. Always have a subject line and make it a summary
This one seems obvious, but scan your own emails and you’ll find most of the subject lines are only vaguely about the email at best. We have email threads that grow like snowballs attached to the subject of the first message, a subject that has long since been changed. We have all read subjects like headlines, trying to trick us into reading further. You really don’t want to sound like a spam. Simply describe your message in your subject line. If need be rename/start a new thread…
Rule 3. Start and end with “you.”
This is one of the fundamentals of business writing: Always address your reader’s self interest straight off. Start your first line with the word “You” and include something like “you asked me…” or “you wanted… ” or “you mentioned” or “you need.” Start your last paragraph with “you” again and stress what your reader will get out of doing whatever it is that you’re asking.
Rule 4. Only one topic per message
You’ll find your actual results of emails go way up when you break your emails into a single message for each topic. Those additional messages you’d like to include are much more likely to get lost. Break the messages up.
Rule 5. Use appropriate voice and tone
Be careful and be correct with your voice and tone. Sarcasm, parody, and irony are VERY hard to put into cold hard black and white text, even if you are British, in fact ESPECIALLY if you are British! Tones are very easily misunderstood across borders and even region to region within one city. Don’t ever write an email that could be misinterpreted and forwarded on to somebody out of context. Never write an email that would be embarrassing if quoted, as Murphy’s Law will mean that it WILL be forwarded.
Rule 6. Don’t send extra copies for the heck of it
It’s just a message, not an archive or a vault. We all hate those cover-your-backside extra cc’d copies going all over email to anybody who might vaguely someday accuse you of not having sent something, or handled something, or followed up. Send your email to the people it’s intended for, and nobody else. Help us all cleanup our inboxes and reduce email spam.
Rule 7. Respect spelling and grammar
Use a spellchecker at least, but recognise as you do that spellcheckers don’t catch a lot of glaringly bad errors. Using “there” for “their,” for example, or the very common confusion of apostrophes and plural, as if every plural word needed an apostrophe. These errors do to your comms what a big piece of spinach caught in your teeth does to your smile.
Rule 8. Remember it’s never private
Your company email belongs to the company and is seen as on your company letterhead, and your personal email can get called up in court, it’s been done. People who want to and know how can snoop in email. Remember that online security and IT Dept at your company will for sure have access. Never write in email anything that is embarrassing to you, your company or your recipient, inappropriate, bigoted, illegal, or stupid.
Rule 9. Email is never for arguments
A friend once told me that angry words are not biodegradable. Never argue in email. Walk down the hall or get on the phone. I’ve learned this myself the hard way, thinking my brilliant use of the English language could somehow make a point better than I could with old-fashioned talk. It never does. Email almost never wins a point or stops an argument. It almost always makes things worse, not better.
Rule 10. Pay attention to those threads
Most of our email software builds long emails like kids build snowballs rolling downhill. Each new email is gathered up below in the thread. Is there anybody out there who hasn’t at least once realized in dismay, too late, that you’ve accidentally emailed a long thread that included too much information or some embarrassing comment about somebody along the way.
Don’t you hate it when that happens? And then, aside from that problem, there is just the plain glut of useless information as every new email in the thread includes all of the previous emails. Think of how much sludge we’re sending through the pipeline.
Does everybody need to be reminded in every email about everything that was said in all the related emails? UNLIKELY!