How many emails do you write a day? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty? But do you always get the desired response? I am certain you don’t. Some emails are ignored, some replies are irrelevant, many transformed into an endless thread.
That is OK. Most of us are or were in such situation.
The worst thing is:
You don’t realise that there is a problem in this flow of correspondence.
Your useful response rate is too low.
So, today I want to share guidelines that will help you to improve the efficiencies of each of your emails.
Here they are
1. Subject Line that Rings a Bell
Which one is better?
Subject: Meeting notes
Subject: RE: 11/23 – Database migration meeting – Meeting Notes
And you do see that the second one is a reply to the initial email on the meetings. With all the information relevant to the topic.
What’s the catch?
Your subject line should trigger an instant recall of the context of the matter you want to discuss.
An IMPORTANT note on the “urgent” and “important” code words in the subject line.
In most cases, it is okay to use them in the heading. But I would recommend to use them as rare as possible. For example, when you do want to draw the attention of all your superiors.
Otherwise, it is much better to send an email first. Then, contact the person via Instant Messenger to explain why it is urgent or important.
And double check the communications policies of your company. Such code words may be limited to exceptional cases.
2. Address the Email Correctly
There are three address lines for email:
I prefer to have only one email address in this field. It is the person I want to take action or have a response from.
In case you do need to ask several persons to take action make it clear at once. Use a special character to draw attention like “@” or bold the names.
However, I do recommend to keep it to the main rule:
One email, one responsible person, one action.
Here you can put everyone else who need to be informed.
If you want people in this list to read your email, do select them carefully for each separate message. When you are in “Cc” for a long time, you start treating it as spam.
What do you do with spam?
Right. Ignore it.
Blind Carbon Copy gives you an opportunity to put a recipient that will not be shown in the email details.
Looks like a cool way to expose your correspondence with a third party or your boss.
However, as for me most of the cases are on the fringe of ethics.
There might be some legal and NDA cases when you need to Bcc someone, but you can always workaround it by forwarding the email thread.
Therefore, I would suggest limiting the use of Bcc for the purpose of archiving your correspondence. It may go to a separate email account or your assistant.
3. Cut to the Chase in the First sentence
So, just after you wrote “Hi John,” or “Dear John,”, the very next sentence should state what you want or need.
Here is a bad example:
Here is a better one:
Still, it is not good enough.
Here is the catch:
4. Say What You Want With a Call to Action
Each and every email should end up with a Call to Action.
It should clearly state what you expect from the person you write to.
So, in the previous example, I need a confirmation on the meeting.
I can end up with something like this:
It may feel that some emails do not need a call to action. For example, when you provide a short answer or a document. In general, when you don’t need anything in return.
That is not true.
You do need to have a call to action in all emails.
Why does it matter?
You should stay open for the following dialogue.
Therefore, you may end up with the following CTAs:
- Please let me know if you have any other questions.
- Please let me know if this answers your questions.
- Feel free to contact me for any additional details.
This way you remove a barrier for clarification. Such CTAs will save you from lots of miscommunications.
That is not all.
5. One Action per Email
There should only be one Call to Action per email.
A busy person sees several questions, and he or she must answer the email promptly. What is the easiest workaround? Right! Select a simple question and give a short answer.
The person may get back to the other questions later. But it is not what you want to achieve.
6. Details in the middle
So, how does it work?
John can read the headline and the first sentence even without opening an email.
You do the same, don’t you?
If the headline and the entry phrase looks important, you will open an email.
But do you read it carefully at once?
You just scan it first.
You look for the CTA. You check whether it is you who must answer it. Moreover, you are trying to assess whether it requires an immediate action. Or whether you can quickly deal with it.
Therefore, details of the matter should not impede this natural process.
Put everything important that will facilitate the process of achieving your goal.
But there is a catch!
Keep it short. Shorter!
The whole email should be as brief as possible.
If possible, I try to add details as attachments or links to the related documents.
Nowadays, with so much distraction, reading long texts is difficult.
For productivity reasons lots of managers put “difficult” emails off.
For example, if I get an email I need a lot of time to read, investigate, and answer I block the required time on the calendar. I have several time slots per day suitable for such activities.
Therefore, make it easier for a person to save time and prioritise the email. Make it important with only a headline, entry paragraph and CTA.
Do You Need a Fancy Signature?
The short answer is Yes.
Though there are some rules here.
- Don’t use images. Especially for social networks.
- You might have to put a company’s logo in your signature – it is OK.
- Have different signatures for work and non-work related emails.
Here is the format you can use as a starting point.
<Name> <Last Name>
<Role Title>, <Company Name (can be a link to corporate site)>
<Mobile Phone>, <Office Phone>
<Email as a link>
<Instant Messengers (Skype Name, Corporate social network account)>
7 Tips to Email in Project Management
1. Never Answer an Email at Once
There are several reasons to act this way:
- The sender may sort things out without your involvement after he or she described the problem.
- Additional information may follow.
- (The main one) Don’t get distracted from your current task.
2. Never Answer an Email When Angry
It simply never solves the problem. All you can achieve with a burst of anger is a spoiled relationship.
If you feel that an email makes you anger or frustrated leave it in the inbox for an hour. Think it through and get back with a cool head.
You are the Project Manager, remember? You have to solve issues, resolve conflicts, and get the project to its objectives.
3. Treat Email as a Last Resort
If you have an option to solve a problem or deliver a message by other means – do it.
Use emails to verify and confirm agreements and actions. Remember that it leave everlasting trails and may be used years after.
4. Proofread everything your write
As for me, it is a matter of ethics and respect. I proofread any text I send.
With that said I do understand that there are quite a lot of mistakes that I miss. Nevertheless, as I’m not a native English speaker, I try to improve my writing skills all the time.
Continuous improvement in everything.
5. Address the right people
Don’t put everyone in Cc just because you can. Limit the number of recipients to a minimum.
Remember that may harm stakeholders engagement.
Learn more: 25 Tips for Perfecting Your E-mail Etiquette
6. Write in Professional Tone
No matter whom you are sending an email, your tone should be professional and calm.
No jokes, no sarcasm, no commanding or yelling. The professional and calm tone has a greater impact on the recipient. It leaves little space to avoid your questions or requests.
7. Keep Formatting Simple
You can use bold in professional emails to stress out relevant details or to improve readability.
Here is the trick.
If you want it to have any effect on the reader use formatting to stress out the most important aspect of your email. The more formatting you use, the thinner its power is stretched.
Also, keep in mind compatibility between different devices and systems. Fancy formatting created on Mac may look distorted on Windows. Likewise, don’t forget that may people read emails on their mobile phones.
Keep formatting of your email as simple as possible.