11 Steps to Compose Clear, Concise & Effective Emails

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The average office worker receives around 80 emails each day, and I’m sure many of you receive more than that. With so much to wade through, your audience – whether it’s one colleague or a slew of potential customers – needs you to get to the point and be immediately relevant. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Determine Your Desired Outcome. The clearer your intention, the more focused you will be, to avoid ambiguity or rambling. Make sure you’re clear about which email you are sending:
  • Self-Fulfilling Email –You want to tell the receiver something, either a compliment or information. No reply is necessary.
  • Inquiries – You need something from the receiver in the form of a reply – info, advice, or questions answered. The reply is your desired outcome.
  • Open-Ended Dialog – You want to keep communication lines open, for the purpose of some future result or benefit.
  • Action Emails – The goal is not the reply, but some action you want from receiver.
  1. Quickly answer, What is the point? People want to know “What do you need from me?” Answer this question quickly.
  • Skip long introductions, backgrounds, compliments and details.
  • State it clearly using minimal words.
  • If action is needed, make it clear what the desired action is from the recipient.
  • If no action or reply is expected, say that! “No reply necessary.” It’ll be like music to their ears.
  1. State benefits clearly. Make sure your email includes clearly stated, easily understood benefits for the audience. Focus on them, not you.
  1. Remember KISS.   KISS = Keep it simple, stupid.
  • Show your reader that you appreciate their time by making emails short and simple to answer.
  • Use as few words as possible: introduce who you are, context if necessary, and why you are emailing.
  1. Save the Whole Story – Stick to the Facts. People tend to say too much in email. We feel compelled to describe all the details, so the reader can understand the whole picture.
  • Unless asked, you don’t need to overly elaborate anything. If you simply stick to the facts (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How) you’ll keep your message short.
  • If you need to provide more detail, do so in an attachment, but only if it’s necessary.
  1. Pretend you’re face to face. If you just met someone new at a party, would you open your mouth first and give them a rambling story about your life? Probably not. Typically, we stop after a quick introduction.
  • Treat emails as if you’re meeting the person for the first time or bumping into someone in the hall. It helps to keep messages short.
  1. Be Personal and Personable. Personalize email with brief relevant remarks.
  • Address the person by name.
  • Put in a quick comment about them or their work.
    • “Glad you’re feeling better.”
    • “I hope all is well with _________”
  • Sign email with your name, and a friendly comment.
  1. Use Simple English. When the writing is too formal or uses irrelevant technical lingo, it may be difficult for laymen to understand. Plus, you come off sounding like a smarty pants who’s in on the lingo. Not good.
  1. Use relevant formatting. Make emails easy to read and quick to scan by:
  • Using bullet points, numbered lists.
  • Keeping paragraphs short – 3-4 sentences, max.
  • Highlighting keywords (bold or italic) for emphasis, without overdoing it.
  1. Minimize questions. Ask questions that matter, and limit the number of questions and favors you ask in an email (one or two max).
  • The more questions asked in one sitting, the less likely you’ll get a response or that all your questions will be answered.
  • Ask specific questions instead of general open-ended ones. Be reasonable and thoughtful when asking. Best to ask the one question that really matters.
  • Send additional questions in separate emails. Key: keep the line of communication open by not overwhelming the reader.
  1. Trim words. Like grooming a garden, read through the finished email and trim out words, sentences, and paragraphs that do not contribute to your desired result.
  • Check for potential ambiguities and unclear thinking. Can you rephrase sentences for clarity using fewer words?
  • Check for excess commentary that doesn’t add to the email’s main point. Remove extra details that are disclosed unnecessarily.

Emails are such a common part of business life, yet they’re increasingly a problem because we get too many of them. But if you follow the suggestions above, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of email communications and stand out in a sea of mediocrity and obfuscation. Get to the point and you’ll create allies.


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