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Quick Tips for Composing Better Emails

Caroline McKee

Posted by Caroline McKee
Tue, Jul 12, 2016

What's the point of email? Why do we send them?

It's simple, conceptually, email promises effective, convenient and easy communication...all at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. Inbox overload, combined with our habits from texting and instant messaging, can cause the desired message and impact to be lost. And suddenly, emails become more of a hassle than a helpful tool.

Email communication is vital — especially in the realm of business communications — and despite promises to drive it to extinction (I'm looking at you, Slack), the truth is that email's not going anywhere anytime soon. Luckily, there are some easy habits and quick fixes you can adopt to step up your email game and ensure your messages are impactful.

Read on for a sneak peak of some of the tips included in our free Top 10 Best Practices for Good Email Etiquette tip sheet, plus a few additional tricks to enhance the power of your emails.

Be Professional.

It seems simple enough, but unfortunately many business professionals do not always act professional via email.

Refrain from attempting to use humor in business correspondence and especially avoid adding in acronyms, such as "LOL" and "LMAO" at all costs – I promise you, its probably not that funny. Even if you pride yourself in being fluent in humor and sarcasm, your witty remarks can be easily misinterpreted when read in an email.

In fact, this 2005 study found that recipients only identified seriousness or sarcasm 56% of the time, compared to a 73% rate of understanding via verbal communication. There's no quicker way to make your email less effective than to inadvertently create a misunderstanding or, even worse, accidentally offend the recipient.

In addition, overuse of emoticons, "emojis," or abbreviations should be avoided, as they rarely come across as professional. One exception is the standard smiley face :), which is now considered widely acceptable in casual work-related email exchanges. However, limit it to one smiley per email and stick with the regular colon+closed parenthesis combo, as image-based emojis and other symbols may render differently across email applications and devices.

The same goes for punctuation, especially exclamation marks. You should always strive to use words, not punctuation, to create meaning in emails and all other professional writing. The perfect example is overuse of exclamation marks!!! If you're unsure about whether it's appropriate to use an exclamation mark, check the Should I Use An Exclamation Mark?  flowchart from HubSpot. And, if you're a recovering exclamation-mark-addict, this article from Time has some alternatives to help you get your message across without unnecessary punctuation.

Emails are not text messages, so when you question whether a phrase, character or abbreviation will be perceived as professional by the recipient, it's best not to chance it. When in doubt, leave it out.

RELATED: Why and When Email Encryption is Important for SMB Security 

Be Smart.

Aside from avoiding text-message-lingo at all costs, you should also be mindful of grammatical errors. Certain auto-corrects or typos may completely change the meaning of an email and potentially make you look illiterate, which is something you definitely do not want in the workplace. Double check to make sure you're using proper grammar and spelling demonstrative of the competent business professional you are.

RELATED: Five Quick and Easy Ways to Speed Up a Slow Computer

Be Careful.

Just like anything else web-based, once an email is sent, it’s out there forever. We’ve all been guilty of forwarding, taking screen-shots and sharing a variety of different messages at one point or another. So, always be mindful that the same can be done with any of your emails, including those that may disclose personal information such as login credentials, tax information and other sensitive data.

RELATED: Unsecured File Sharing is a Risky Business

The repercussions for such information landing in the wrong hands can be detrimental personally, professionally, and legally – so tread lightly when including sensitive information like this. Again when in doubt, leave it out.

Why are you emailing?

Tell your recipient why you're emailing from the get-go. Many people receive hundreds of emails each day, so using appropriate subject lines that show the relevance and topic of your messages will help them stand out amid a cluttered inbox.

If you use descriptive tags such as "ACTION REQUIRED" or "IMPORTANT," it may help recipients prioritize their inboxes and get to your email faster. That being said, only use these tags when urgency is truly needed — don't be like the boy who cried wolf, or, as the case may be, the "coworker who cried URGENT!" when asking what's for lunch. Nothing regarding lunch requires a tag in all capital letters, unless its about ordering pizza — always use caps-lock for pizza.

RELATED: Mobility and Cloud Computing: A Natural Fit, But Enterprise Policy Needed

CC vs BCC email communication best practicesAside from the tags mentioned above, which should be used sparingly, try to avoid the use of all capital letters in subject lines. According to a study done by the Radicati Group, over 85 percent of respondents said they actually prefer a subject line that is in all lowercase, rather than all caps.

All capital letter subject lines can also be spam triggers, and you don't want your email to be overlooked or sent to the junk folder just because of the subject line. For more tips for effective professional email subject lines, check out these 19 Subject Line Statistics that will supercharge your email open rates.

RELATED: Biggest Security Threats Facing Employees Today

When forwarding emails, be sure to include a brief explanation for your recipient so that they know why you are forwarding the message, why it's relevant to them and/or what action they need to take (read, register, save, print, etc.).

Another helpful tip is to let people know when you don't want or need a response. Let's be honest, you don't need to be thanked each time you forward an article or webinar invitation your colleague may find interesting, and it also relieves them of the burden of sending a million little replies. A simple "no reply necessary" is quick and easy to add, and can help reduce clutter in both your inbox and the inboxes of those with whom you communicate. In the end, this small change alone can help make everyone less stressed and more efficient.

Ready to step up your email game even more?

For a complete, comprehensive checklist on the best practices for email etiquette, check out our free guide, Top 10 Tips for Good Email Etiquette. Click here to download it for free today.

Get our Free Guide for Good Email Etiquette!

Caroline McKee

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