“Click, click, click”, everybody clicks. You, your boss, your colleagues, your customers, everyone is typing on their keyboards. According to a Carleton University study, the average Canadian employee spends one third of his time writing or replying to 121 emails a day, spending 11.7 hours per week. With nearly a third of your day spent emailing, it’s important to ensure best practices for getting the results you want.
I- THE SUBJECT LINE; WRITE TO ATTRACT ATTENTION
Too often ignored and not replaced as the conversation evolves, this line is essential. It allows your recipient to prioritize your message. Well written, it will give your email all the attention that it deserves. Beware, an empty Subject line or one that is in uppercase could be perceived as spam.
As you go back and forth, when necessary, freshen it. An obsolete “Subject line will deter the recipient from opening it.
When your email requires a specific action within a specified timeline, add this information, for example: RSVP by Sunday, March 1st.
When your message is five words or less, write them in the subject line, followed by EM (End of Message). The first time you use it, spell out the acronym for your recipient.
II-CC AND BCC; FOLLOW THE PROTOCOL
Carefully add the recipients of your emails and include only those that should be in “Cc” (Carbon copy). Reading and responding to an email takes time. Be respectful of your collaborators’ time. Think before including. Does he or she want to be included in this trail? Sending unnecessary e-mails will minimize the value of your future emails. This is the effect of “The boy who cried wolf,” Aesop’s fable.
Clearly indicate who should reply to you, in what timeframe and if this email is just an FYI (For Your Information).
List the recipients according to the order of precedence. Start with the most important person, the head of the company or your customer. Then continue with the second most important person and so on, from top to bottom of the organizational chart.
When you add a new person to the Cc list, state it in your email along with the reason for this addition. For example, “Monique, I copied Pierre in this email. He will be responsible for the office while I attend the conference in Quebec City. He knows about your file and knows how to contact me at all times”.
When you are in Cc, you should not reply to the email. The email is not sent to you. You were included to keep you in the know, without expectation of actions from you.
Replying to all is a popular pet peeve. Reply to everyone only when it is requested. In general, you only have to reply to the sender.
Use the Bcc (Blind Carbon Copy) field for your mailings to groups, especially for people who do not know each other. Rarely use Bcc with third parties to protect yourself. It can be perceived as a lack of transparency. Instead, “forward” your email by prefacing the email for this new recipient.
III- MESSAGE AND SALUTATIONS; REMEMBER IT IS A LETTER
An email is not a text, a tweet or a telegram. An email is the closest thing to a letter. It documents, it summarizes and can be shared. An email must always be proper. Proofread carefully, use well-structured sentences, good punctuation, along with appropriate vocabulary and grammar.
Always keep your recipient(s) in mind when writing. He or she must get your message. It is the reader who decides whether your email is effective or not. When in doubt of its’ tone, ask a trusted colleague to re-read it.
Start your emails with a greeting that respect your organizational culture. Use a tone that reflects your business relationship. Some prefer to be addressed by their first name, while others insist on their title. “Dear” is still the most formal of salutations.
When you exchange multiple emails on a single day, only the first one requires an opening greeting.
Without the assurance of when your recipient will open your email, never use “Good morning, noon or night”.
The look of your email counts too. This first visual impression has an impact on the recipient’s perception of you and your role. Use readable characters, with an easy-to-read font and a color that prints well. Short sentences in well punctuated paragraphs reflect professionalism and are inviting to read. Before pressing send, lean back and evaluate the visual appeal of your email.
The content of your email should indicate what you expect from your reader, what you are doing or will do, how and when. Email communication is not ideal to validate the why. It is often the source of misinterpretations and frustrations, that are followed by unnecessary emails. A phone call or in person meeting is much more effective and will be less time consuming.
Even if you save a few clicks, only use abbreviations when you are certain that all know them. When introducing a new one, spell it out.
When attaching documents, add them before writing your email. This tip will ensure that you never forget them and will avoid an “oops” follow up email. Always inform the recipients of the presence of attachments in the email, as well as how many there are. Check the recipient’s capacity for large files. Remember to use a compressed file or a cloud-based computer file transfer service. Number multiple emails as follows: 1 of 4, until all are sent: 4 of 4.
Avoid putting confidential information, like a social insurance number, in an email. When unprotected this mention could have legal repercussions.
Emoticons can soften a message but should rarely be used with discernment.
End your emails with a greeting that is tailored to the purpose and tone of your message. “Looking forward to collaborating with you”, “At your service” and “Best regards” are my favorites. Avoid adding “thank you”, especially when the other has not yet done what you expect from him.
IV- SIGNATURE AND CONTACT INFORMATION; THEY MUST BE PRESENT
The first e-mail in a chain must contain your signature according to your company’s standards, with at least your full name, your title, your employer’s full name and your phone number. The website may also be added. The civic address is as needed.
Subsequent messages must have at least your name and your phone number. Providing your phone number in each email will make it easy for the recipient to call, instead of scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the trail.
If your name is not common and causes gender confusion, add the abbreviation (Mrs.) (Mr.) after.
V- THE GOLDEN RULES; OBSERVE THEM
Your employer owns all your communications and can access any of your emails, at any time. Never send an email that you would not want to see on the front page of one of your favorite news source. Even if you add “Personal and Confidential”, an email is never private.
Reply to all your emails in a timely manner, within 24 to 48 hours. This is the norm. If you want to respond to an email later, acknowledge receipt. Inform the sender of the schedule in which you will respond. This courtesy allows the other to plan accordingly.
Rarely use the “read receipt” function. Most people find it annoying, disrespectful and even insulting.
Only use the “high importance” flag when it is really important. Here again, you may fall victim to the effect of the famous fable mentioned above.
If necessary, shorten the email trail. Two to three emails should be enough.
When replying to e-mails from your mobile phone, remove the “sent from my iPhone” or other. This signature is advertising for your phone company. From the recipient’s point of view, your phone model may look snobbish. Do not apologize for mistakes. If you are not willing to write from your phone, consider phoning instead or delaying your response for when you will be assured of its’ professionalism.
Email is probably the most popular method of your business communications. Make sure that each one reflects the reputation you want to have. This perceived credibility contributes to the confidence that clients and colleagues entrust in you. Poorly written emails diminish your ability to convince and can even lead to loss of clients. Your emails are inseparable from your image. They influence the reader’s perception of you and the company that you represent. Clear, concise and easy to comprehend, they contribute to your credibility.
Translated from the published article in La référence RH de l’Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines 2019 (c) Julie Blais Comeau