Write better emails at work

No matter where you work, if sending emails is a regular part of your job, then this post is for you. Especially if you respond to work emails from your smartphone. Professional written communication is essential to the hiring and promotion process. Send sloppy emails and your boss, clients, and co-workers won’t think as highly of you.

Before I get into the meaty specifics, it is worthy to mention the danger of mass emails. Too often, when people feel overly comfortable in the workplace, they may be inclined to send an email to everyone. Perhaps it is announcing their kid’s cookie sale, or sharing an article about the state of the field, or maybe something even worse, like showing their emotional cards by saying borderline inappropriate statements about a situation at work.

These emails are dangerous and I suggest you stay away from them. Those who take the bait and jump in the “reply-all” battle of words are putting themselves at risk, too, simply for participating. Better to let those mass emails and battle threads pass by unacknowledged. If you value your reputation in the workplace, you will refrain from sending or participating in such threads. Trust me, everyone is watching. The last thing you need is to be considered a workplace troublemaker. Challenge the rules and conventions in more formal settings, using the structure of your organization, but don’t delve into these often petty and childish mass email threads.

On to some specifics about composing professional email correspondence:

1. Digital precision. When crafting or responding to an email on your smartphone, iPhone, tablet or other digital device, be extra vigilant about spelling, punctuation, word choice, and other sentence-level errors that lead to those mocking memes where auto-correct mangled someone’s message. In personal correspondence, this can be funny. In professional scenarios, mistakes like these may not be as well-received and your professionalism and attention to detail will be questioned.

2. Open with a personalized greeting. Don’t write “Hey!” or “Dear editor” or “Attention webmaster.” Impersonal, vague greetings such as these will probably irritate the recipient. Spend a few extra minutes figuring out the NAME of your recipient, at the very least. And if you aren’t sure whether to use the first or last name? The safe default is always “Dear Dr. Smith,” “Good day, Ms. Beebonnet,” or “Hello Mr. Hedgehog.” You get the point. Professional email communication begins with a professional and personal greeting.

3. Introduce why you are writing. If this is someone you’ve dealt with before, you can always refresh their memory about who you are and why you are corresponding. “Good day, Joe. I’m writing to continue our discussion about implementing the “No More Meeting” policy in our Denver office.” Or, if this is a cold email to someone in your company, “Good morning, Rita. I’m a professor in the English department and I’m having trouble with the Adobe Acrobat that was installed on my office computer.” As you can see, getting right to the point and being specific about WHY you are writing and WHO you are is essential.

4. State your case, make your point, ask your question. Nobody has time anymore. The recipient of a long-winded, meandering email may become an enemy for life. Think of being concise and clear as one small way to gain allies, or at least a friendly face in the crowd who won’t mock you behind your back for constantly wasting their time and never getting to the point. Plus, bosses love when you are clear and concise. Want to impress? Be clear and concise in the body of your email.

5. Say thank you. Close your email with a polite closing statement that acknowledges the recipient’s time and effort. “Thank you for your time in considering this matter. I look forward to your response” is always a good generic closer; adapt as needed.

6. Proofread. Re-read #1 and realize that goofs in emails happen even when you are well-caffeinated and sitting at your office desk at full attention at ten in the morning. Don’t hit the SEND button until you proofread and fix any punctuation, spelling, word choice, or sentence structure errors. We like to talk a lot in the academy about “home language” versus “professional language” (to simplify), but what this means is that when you are at work, you do not write or speak the way you do at home. At work, you should elevate and formalize your language a bit if you want to be taken seriously. No LOL, SMH, or WTF in the work emails. No misspelled words. Add in the appropriate punctuation. Don’t use slang. Yes, people will judge you for not making the effort to code-switch in this manner. So do yourself a favor and proofread before hitting SEND.





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