I learned to write an e-mail at age 23, but you can learn now
Do you feel a slave to e-mails? 100+ a day to shift through, delete, understand the real meaning, understand what, if any, action is needed, or wondering why you even received it?
Email audit time. If you haven’t done this, you should. From a team and organizational perspective, it is highly recommended doing communication edits, with one of the primary channels being e-mail.
When I started work at a public relations boutique firm in NYC, fresh out of grad school, ready to take on the world, my supervisor made me send her my e-mails to “review” before I sent them out. WHAT?! Day after day, I was destroyed in an ongoing process of corrections and revisions for sending out, sometimes, a measly two lines to a client.
What I learned was that there is an art and craft to writing concise and efficient e-mails.
Many years later, I had a conversation from a consultant who had spent many years working as an executive at the World Bank. He had proposed capping the amount of e-mails one could send, anything extra you would be “charged”. This would really make you think twice about the e-mails you write and the content they contain.
People always say, “I don’t have time to write a proper e-mail” and just type up something as quickly as possible and click send. In the long run, it creates more work and headache, because lack of clarity makes everyone go in circles and will require you to be involved in more “back and forth” messages to explain what your jibbereish was about.
The following are the steps for writing efficient e-mails:
1. Can I clearly and succinctly send a message on what I want to convey?
If no, because it’s it too complicated or longer than a page then maybe it’s worth starting with a call or setting up a meeting.
If yes, then proceed.
2. Identify immediately what is your key message or requested action
3. Draft your message keeping in mind point 2 is clearly stated
4. Save in drafts and re-look (depending on urgency after a short contemplation, if less urgent, even the next day)
5. Revise the draft, cutting down the language, getting to the point and ensuring there is an action point, it is clarified to whom is the action for, the date. always keep it clean and consider it can be forwarded and to be efficient, cut and repasted easily.
6. When considering who is TO and CC, be sure you can answer the following:
- Why are they on this e-mail
- If they are TO: clearly state their action or what they should do
- If they are CC: Why do they need to be kept in the loop
7. For the subject add one of the following starting tags with a brief and clear label of what the message contains
- FOR REVIEW
- FOR FEEDBACK
- FOR INPUTS
- SAVE THE DATE
- When emails take a turn into a different topic, aim to:
- Revise the TO and CC
- Revise the Subject
- If you are on the email and don’t think you need to be, kindly send a message to the sender to remove your name as you don’t feel that you need to be in the conversation anymore. The sender should note in his next email, “FYI I’ve removed Aman since this topic is no longer relevant for her to be in copy.”
- Getting it bit agressive in the message? Pick up the phone or visit your colleagues to straighten out your concerns.
This post is dedicated to my ex-supervisor who taught me so much about communications, including writing solid e-mails. I went crazy in the beginning, but it was one of the best learning experience I had.