9 best practices for clear email communication
Email communication is one of those necessary evils. Many of us hate to live with it, but we certainly can’t live without it. Unfortunately, quite a bit of email communication leaves a lot to be desired. Miscommunication, offense, and wasted time describe many of the emails in our inboxes instead of information, courtesy, and efficiency. These 9 best practices will help your email communication be more efficient and clear, leaving less room for misinterpretation and confusion.
1. Write a good subject line.
Think of the subject as the “headline” of your email. Make it a one-sentence synopsis that summarizes the content of the rest of your email. A subject line reading “meeting” isn’t nearly as good as “Meeting with John Smith at 10am tomorrow.”
2. Specify the desired response to the email.
Make it very clear what action you want the recipient to take. Closing an email with a simple “thoughts?” isn’t likely to get the same response as “what is your opinion about my point?” Or, if there is no specific action, let the recipient know: “I’m sending you this for your information at this stage, and will let you know when further action is required.”
3. Use fewer words.
Typically, address one thought or idea per email. And don’t use two words when one will do. Over-communicating a point often ends up confusing the matter rather than clarifying it. Another practical way to help is by eliminating “filler” words that don’t actually need to be there. Once you’ve written an email, read back through it and pare down your words and delete unnecessary or repetitive sentences.
4. Clarify the purpose of longer emails.
Sometimes, longer emails covering multiple topics are inevitable. When this is the case, make your intentions clear at the beginning by letting the reader know ahead of time what you want from them: “I’m sending you this information and want your input about the three ideas I list below in relation to our sales this year.”
5. Pay attention to formatting.
Long blocks of unbroken text are hard to read and often skimmed. Make your emails – especially longer ones – more readable by formatting text. Keep paragraphs 2-3 sentences long, and utilize bullet points to call out important information. Sometimes, especially in longer emails, using a bold text for section titles can help.
6. Proof read what you wrote.
This goes without saying, but is often so overlooked. It’s easy to type a quick email and hit “send” without taking the time to make sure the basics of spelling and grammar are correct.
7. Be wary of BCC’s and CC’s.
This point goes back to over-communication often muddying the waters instead of providing clarity. Copying people on emails without specifically telling them why they’ve been included in the communication is often frustrating. Only include others in email communication when it’s absolutely necessary.
8. Read between the lines to hear your tone.
It’s said that voice and tone accounts for 38% of communication. That’s a large percentage of communication going unsaid in emails, and leaves a wide margin for misunderstanding. As part of proofing your emails, take time to put yourself in the recipients shoes and “hear” the tone of voice they may read in between the lines of what you wrote.
9. Know when to take the conversation off email.
Email is an imperfect form of communication, and at times will lead to misunderstanding and offense. When this happens, trying to remedy the miscommunication or apologize for the hurt by email will likely only dig your hole deeper. In the event of communication breakdown, take the time to pick up the phone to clear the air.
While following these 9 email communication tips might take more time, in the end they will help you communicate more clearly and efficiently. Spending time on the front end strategizing your communication will ultimately cut down on the amount of back-and-forth follow-up emails, saving everyone time.