A few years ago one of my staff members came into my office, sat down with a smile, and politely said, “You know Bruce, I know you are busy and are to the point in your emails...but it would be nice to say Good Morning, Please, and Thank You.” Now, she knew me and knew that I meant no disrespect. But....what an “Ah-Ha” moment!
I was reminded at that moment that as a leader at work, in my community, in my church, and in life, the way I communicate verbally and in writing can have a positive or negative effect on the recipient. I was reminded that my email must be clear and easy to understand as it reflects on me as a leader and as a person.
As a leadership coach, I've found that the root of many conflicts and misinterpretations between people stems from ineffective communication through writing. With so much workplace communication happening through email, it’s important that you’re able to write messages that your recipients can understand and receive in the manner it was intended.
Here are a few tips to help you send emails that are clear, concise, and written with the correct words and tone before you hit send.
1. Share Your Main Point First
In government, it's called "BLUF" (Bottom Line Up Front). Think about the purpose of your email before you start writing. What’s the main message that you need to share? Make sure that you state the most critical information upfront.
If you’re making a request of your reader, say so at the beginning. Your recipient should immediately know why you’ve written and how your message applies to him or her. If you bury your message too far down in your email, you may confuse your reader or make him or her lose interest before understanding what you’re saying. The last thing you want your reader to think is, “Get to the point!”
2. Remember Your Audience
Consider who you’re writing to as you decide what to put in an email. What information is relevant to them? Include and clearly explain anything that your reader needs to know, and leave out unnecessary details.
You should also pay attention to the words that you use in your email. When you work in a career field for a while, you become an expert in certain subjects, and it’s easy to forget that your audience may not have the same understanding. For example, if you’re an IT specialist, you probably know about information systems and software programs. If you’re writing to someone else who works in IT and has similar background knowledge, including technical IT terms may be OK. For other audiences, consider whether or not you need to use technical language. If your message can be understood without it, leave it out. If you need to use to technical terms to get your point across, make sure to clearly define them.
No matter your audience, keep in mind that your emails will be most effective if you use plain, simple language that’s easy to understand.
3. Pay Attention to Voice, Words and Tone
Even when you’re writing, your “voice” should still be heard. That’s why it’s important to avoid words or phrases that you wouldn’t use in regular speech. As you write, visualize yourself telling a coworker the same message and think about what you would say.
Make sure you’re communicating with appropriate words, and in a tone, that’s correct for your reader. Leading off with a “Good morning” or “Hello” are words that set a good tone and, quite frankly are polite. Words like “please” and “thank you” are very powerful courtesies that show respect to the recipient.
Are you talking to a friend, colleague or peer? An informal, conversational tone may be OK. For someone who isn’t as familiar to you, try a more formal tone. You should also be more formal if you’re writing to a senior manager, but be direct and share only the most important information.
If you still have trouble knowing what tone to use, try putting yourself in your reader’s shoes. How formal would you expect the email to be? What language do you imagine the message would use?
4. Double-Check Your Spelling and Grammar
One of the quickest ways to look unprofessional is to send an email full of spelling and grammar mistakes. It can undo all of the work you put into crafting your message and considering your audience and tone.
To avoid careless errors, proofread your message before you send it – even if you’re writing an informal email to a coworker.
To check your emails before sending, you can try:
Reading your message at least once or twice
Using a spelling and grammar check
Reading your message aloud to get a sense for tone
If you’ve reviewed your message and are still hesitant to send it, ask a detail-oriented coworker or family member to proofread it for you. He or she may catch mistakes that you’ve missed and make sure you’re using the right tone.
These tips also apply to other types of writing. With more written communication taking place through social media and text messaging, some people have developed a habit of writing quickly and informally without checking over their work. By starting with your main point; keeping your audience in mind; considering words, voice and tone; and proofreading, you can learn to write concisely and cleanly – no matter the medium.