Did you know that professionals spend, on average, 28% of the workday (approx. 2.6 hours/workday) managing work email according to a McKinsey report. A Loughborough University study found that it takes an average of 64 seconds for people to return to the same rate of managing work email at which they left it. While there are best practices you can follow that will significantly shave off the precious seconds and minutes processing and managing work email, but what will make you shine is how clearly and concisely you can communicate your thoughts.
Now, how many of us are familiar with the sinking feeling of receiving four-page work email from our bosses while we juggle a multitude of deadlines, and the feeling of dread that ensues as you near the end of the managing work email that you are none the wiser for having read it. You, then, grit your teeth and clench your fists and make a solemn promise to yourself that when the time comes for you to be in his/her boss, you would lead by example and wouldn’t subject your employees to the proverbial torture that you, yourself went through. If this sounds like you, then do read on.
You may or may not be on top of some of these elements, but trust us there is nothing more important than mastering the basics when it comes to email communication:
- Capitalisation and punctuation: We cannot help but underscore (pardon the pun) the importance of right punctuation in business communication. Some of the common punctuation pitfalls to avoid are:
- Superfluous apostrophes (use them either in the possessive sense or you need to contract two words e.g. can’t for cannot, DO NOT use them for plurals)
- Redundant quotation marks (the hint is in the name: use quotation marks ONLY if you are quoting someone)
- Missing commas (you want to avoid run-on sentences that do not have the necessary pauses)
- Excessive commas (to address this, it’s a good idea to break down a large sentence into a few smaller ones)
- Too many exclamation marks (you want to use them judiciously)
- Its not it’s (when in need of a possessive pronoun use its NOT it’s)
- Oxford comma (comma before and— the jury is out on the Oxford comma: key here is consistency)
- Hyphen vs. dash (hyphen combines two words to create a single idea, dash serves the same purpose as the colon)
- Semi-colon vs. colon (use semi-colon when you want two related but distinct thoughts and colon when you want a list of items)
- Fonts to use: Business email is NOT an opportunity for you to show your creativity (not in the choice of fonts at any rate). You do not want a font that distracts from the content of your and to managing work email. Arial, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Palatino, and Verdana are safe choices. A word of caution: you do not want to use a font that does not have cross-platform compatibility.
- Use highlighting/bullet points: Even before you start writing an email, think how you would prefer to get the same information— tucked away in a long-winded paragraph(s) or communicated succinctly in bullet points, with key points clearly highlighted. Using bullet points, in conjunction with highlighting key points, is the best way to not only save your own time but that of the readers (which can grow exponentially depending on the number of recipients).
- Update in an incremental fashion: People in an organisation are usually inundated with hundreds of email every day. If you are trying to point someone’s attention to something sent a couple of weeks ago, it’s always a good strategy to jog their memory (remember to do so in no more than a few sentences) and then just highlight incremental changes since you sent the last communiqué.
This is often the most overlooked component of professional business communication, but also the most important. According to the author David Silverman, the number of revisions an email should undergo is a function of the number of recipients of the said email. He lives by the following rule-of-thumb:
- 1 to 5 recipients = 2 to 4 revisions
- 5 to 10 recipients = 8 to 12 revisions
- Company-wide/executive committee = 30 to 50 revisions
The bottom line here is there should be NO email that must be sent without revisions. When in doubt, we would all do well to heed this advice from Mark Twain:
“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
While this may only seem like an housekeeping item, but it is imperative that emails be sent during the workday (unless it’s an emergency, of course)
This is another one where exercising extra caution wouldn’t go amiss. DO NOT include anyone on the email who doesn’t benefit either directly or indirectly from the information in the email. Finally, these are merely guidelines to help you communicate effectively with people at all levels of an organisation. They are meant to empower your creativity, not stifle it. Our advice is to use these guidelines in conjunction with your better judgment suited to your unique situation(s). Here’s to wishing you well on your journey to write even more effective and impactful emails!