The Game Has Changed
Email has changed our lives. Foremost, it has added to our busyness. Before, we gave colleagues information in person, or picked up the phone. Now, we send an email. If you start off the day with 30 emails in your inbox and it takes five or six minutes to answer each email, it will take up approximately three hours of your work day. That doesn’t even include the time it will take to send emails of your own.
The New Rules
This new communication game has new rules. The first rule is: prioritise. Prioritising well will save your corporate hide on a busy day, as you figure out which emails need to be answered now, and which can be answered later. To do this, you need to be able to see at a glance what an email is about. This is where the focus shifts from you as reader of email to you as writer of email.
Serve Them Well
One of the greatest ways you can serve your readers well – and ensure your emails are read and answered quickly – is to make your emails highly readable. Please don’t fall into these three annoying email habits:
1. Having blank or poorly written subject lines
If you’re going to leave your subject line blank, expect to have your email answered last. If you’re going to write, ‘Urgent! Need answer today!’ in the subject line of every single email you send, you can expect that your messages will lose their punch and you will lose credibility with your audience. If you are going to write a generic subject line, like ‘Staff announcement’ or ‘From [insert your name here]’, you can expect that others will come to your email with the same ho-hum attitude with which you wrote the subject line.
Your subject lines need to be clear, informative, and to the point.
2. Sending visually overwhelming e-mails
Can the emoticons. Get rid of sparkly GIFs. Pare down your e-mail signature so it doesn’t take up half the screen. Please don’t write your email in one big, unbroken block of text. Break it up into paragraphs of not more than five lines a paragraph and, as far as possible, no more than three points per email. Visually overwhelming emails, even if they contain important information, are read last.
Your email needs to look ‘clean’ so readers can scan it at a glance.
3. Writing ambiguous, convoluted, jargon-ridden sentences
One of the things that frustrates me most is when I’ve read a whole email, reached the end of it, and I still don’t know what the sender is trying to say. People don’t have time to play Sherlock Holmes. Write succinctly. Keep your sentences crisp and free of jargon. Make sure your readers know exactly what action you expect them to take.
Your email needs to read more like journalistic writing, and less like War and Peace.
What You Will Find
What you’ll find is that paying attention to these three areas will increase the time you spend on email. This is temporary. As you become ‘fit’ at writing plainly, you will actually decrease the amount of time you spend on email. Plus, your readers will enjoy receiving and answering your emails.
If you want to learn how to write for business, join us for The Plain Language Programme.
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Donna is a creative writer who has tinkered with words for years. She has written newsletters and online articles, translated a book, and edited a variety of documents. She also reviews books. She owned her own training business and now facilitates The Plain Language Programme for Writers Write. She is currently working on her novel, which involves drinking lots of sweet tea. You can view her profile on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.
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