It’s Not Just What You Say

emailHow to make your email the best it can be

In the mid-1990’s to the early 2000’s email came into regular use by most people; today there are more than 2.5 billion email users worldwide. If you were of the generation to experience the advent of email in the workplace chances are you were trained on how to properly use it. If on the other hand, you are of the born with no concept of the days without email chances are you learned how to use email without any kind of formal instruction for personal or business use.

According to a study by McKinsey & Company, people spend 28 percent of their working week reading and replying to emails. While email has become the norm and is the quickest and easiest way we now have to stay connected, many emails leave the wrong impression or create unforeseen problems between the sender and the recipient.

Even if you have never been formally trained on proper use of email there are some basic principles that can help you improve your use of this type of communication.

Is email the right tool?

Email is great, but it is not always the best tool to use to communicate, so before you sit down at the keyboard consider if there is a better way. Knowing when a conversation should happen face to face is important. Body language is lost in email and phone calls and some conversations are best-had face to face when possible.

Turn off Auto-Complete

Most email providers today use “auto-fill” or “predictive text” which create the potential for sending an email to the wrong person because once you start to type it will bring up names based upon the letter combinations and the last time it was used.

Not only will your email not reach its intended recipient, it can also cause embarrassment and you run the risk of sharing sensitive or confidential information with someone who does not have a need or right to know it. We will cover how to turn features like this on and off later in the presentation.

Include a Subject

Email is most effective when it is concise and clear subject line is essential to let someone know what to expect when they open it. What is the email about? Is it urgent? Is it sensitive? Give the recipient some ideal of the level of priority it needs.

Keep Subject Lines Short, most people quickly scan subject lines to decide if they’ll open or ignore the email, so don’t expect subscribers to dig through your subject line to figure out if they’re interested. Keep your subject line to 50 characters or fewer. Make it Relevant, your subject should reflect what the email is about.

Pay Attention to the Body

Typically emails should be short, concise and to the point, but that does not mean they should lack any sense of formality.

Use an introduction. Not hey, yo or dude but one that is equal to the formality required. Simple first name and comma can be fine for an informal correspondence between co-workers. A more formal salutation is definitely in order when addressing someone you don’t know well, have just met or don’t know at all. Dear Mr. Ms. Mrs.

Know your audience. Your e-mail should be consistent with the level of respect and formality of the person you’re communicating with. Also, write for the person who will be reading it – if they tend to be very polite and formal, write in that language. With the wide range of generations in the workforce today, it is important to not only know your audience but also set the write example.

While it is recommended emails be short and concise, the specific topic of the email will ultimately dictate its overall length. Keep in mind though that anything that goes beyond what can be read on the screen without scrolling probably won’t get read all the way through.

Do not type your message in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS – this is considered shouting according to email etiquette rules. Besides, the ALL CAPS text is difficult to read. Do not type your email in all small case either – this gives the perception of a lack of education.

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t be tone deaf

Tone and inflection are one of the hardest things to convey in email yet we are quick to interpret them every time we read one. We’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” The same can be said for email.

Communication isn’t one size fits all, everyone has a different style. We often miss the opportunity to be “nice” and provide context to our e-mail in our rush for efficiency. It doesn’t have to be full of flowery words and accolades but including politeness will go a long way. Instead of just “fine” a “Thanks, I appreciate that.” sounds better and is unlikely to be misinterpreted.

Always include a signature.

Even personal emails should close with a signature and If you’re social media savvy, include all of your social media information. Your e-mail signature is how you can let people know more about you and your company.

Here are a few more tips that will help you avoid some simple mistakes and make your emails better.

Add recipients last. This is a great way to avoid sending something before it is ready and give you the opportunity to pause and re-read what you have written.

Add attachments first. Forgetting the attachment is one of the most common actions associated with email. While some programs will ask you if you have forgotten an attachment a good way to prevent this is to add the attachment first.

Limit attachments. Sending files is an essential part of business, however, there are size limitations associated with email so limit your attachments to two and keep in mind the size of the file you are sending.

Spell check. Although outlook has a built in spell check feature that does not prevent auto correct from changing a miss-spelled word to one used incorrectly or inappropriately. It will also not catch words that are used in correctly such as there and their or two, to and too.

Wait to hit send. If you are writing something critical or think there is a potential for a miss-understanding wait to hit send. Take a break and go back to re-read what you have written or have someone give it an objective review.

Provide timely responses. What is considered timely is only relevant to the person awaiting your response. Unless a specific deadline is given or it is marked urgent typical business protocol is no more than 24 hours. Judgment is the key but don’t be a slave to your email by thinking you have to respond to everything as soon as it hits your inbox.

Remember, once it is in writing and you hit send, there is no turning back. With a little thought, you can avoid the pitfalls of email because it is not what you say, it is how you say it.


Anthony T. Eaton
Anthony T. Eaton
ANTHONY is a seasoned, certified Human Resources professional with more than twenty years of experience working in a range of industries including non-profit, banking, utilities and government. In addition, he is an accomplished leader and author with a passion for personal and professional leadership and development. Believing that every person has the opportunity and potential to lead, his focus is on helping others be the best leaders they can no matter who they are or position they hold. In 2013 Anthony took his leadership message online with a blog. Initially posting an inspirational quote of the day he then began doing interviews with a wide range of individuals from diverse background about their personal journey, leadership experiences, and thoughts. In 2015 he created a website and added feature articles, a second interview series WOMEN ON LEADERSHIP along with a book review. In 2016 he published his first book LEADERSHIP CONVERSATIONS, a series of interviews on leadership and more. Anthony’s purpose is to inspire and motivate others by initiating conversations about what it means to be a leader in the broadest sense of the word.

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