“How do I respond to THAT?” Writing effective and efficient emails

Niki Rudolph is the new Director of Student Affairs at the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. In this guest post, she offers some tips on how to avoid unnecessary office quarrels over common email mistakes.

Most likely, an email brought you to this post. You were plugging along, answering emails, filing others, and clicked on this link. As you read this, other emails are pouring in. I feel your pain. I would like to offer a few tips to make the entire process more efficient. In the interest of getting to the point, here are some quick tips to make email a more pleasant experience. That’s right; I said pleasant.

Keep it Clear.
You have so many hours in the day, and you only have so many emails that are humanly possible to read. Help people understand why you are emailing quickly. Are you asking them to respond in some way? Is this just for information’s sake? To get to the point, consider:

  • The email subject line should preview the content of the email

Not helpful: Just an FYI
Helpful: Background on conference call with Sue

  • The email should start with the action you desire.

Not helpful: Long-winded paragraphs that provide the five-year history on how we have

come to this decision.

Helpful: “I would appreciate if you can approve the following plan for promoting this

Keep it Uncluttered.
My guess is that you know someone who is prone to generous use of the Cc: feature. There are very appropriate times that copying someone on an email can support communication. However, the Reply All feature should be accompanied by a three-point self-interrogation:

  • Does everyone need to know my response? Or is the sender aggregating information for a future use? Reply will suffice.
  • Am I contributing to the conversation? Or is my Reply All of “Thanks” or “Got it” simply muddying up everyone’s inbox? Reply will suffice.
  • Am I complaining or venting? If you have a concern to address with the content, Reply to the sender will suffice.

Keep it Concise.
Although I would never want to dash anyone’s dreams as a future novelist, perhaps email is not the best venue for those creative endeavors. Keep emails to one main point or issue, rather than a litany of agenda items that need to be addressed individually. If your email involves pages, then it is time for another fantastic form of communication: the phone.

Keep it Positive.
No matter how hard you might try, sarcasm never translates well in an email. Additionally, negativity inevitably comes across more dramatic than necessary. Keep your tone solution-driven, focused on moving the conversation forward. Re-reading emails before pressing send can often save you from an unnecessary or unhelpful email conversation.

A quick search on Google can summon multiple other lists that might be helpful in building your email etiquette and making you chuckle. Here’s to happy emailing!

Email Cartoon

Upcoming SpartansLearn classes that can help:

Microsoft Outlook 2010, Level 1: October 9

Smart Phone Productivity Tools: October 31

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