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Take Charge of E-mail
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Take Charge of E-mail!

Do you feel as if your outgoing e-mails end up in a black hole because you never get a response? Is your in-box choking with e-mails that you know will waste your time?

If you’re like most business people today, you have a love-hate relationship with e-mail. You like it because it’s fast; you dislike it because you get too many that waste your time--the average person gets 121 e-mails a day! 

If e-mail is a challenge for you, here are some tips that we teach  Writing and Managing E-mail workshop to help you take charge of e-mail and get it read.

Write for Mobile Devices. How much of an e-mail do you see when you open it? A lot if you are using a desktop with a large monitor, less on a tablet, a lot less on a cell phone, and very little on a watch! More than 50 percent of e-mails are read on mobile devices, and that number is growing. The key to getting e-mail read on any device, especially mobile devices, is to write it from the top down. 

Before you write an e-mail, decide what the most important message is. This is the one thing the reader needs to know and remember after reading the e-mail if they know or remember nothing else. Start with that and make sure everything in the e-mail relates to that information in order of importance from most to least. Keep in mind, very few people read an entire e-mail, so stay focused on what they need to know and/or do and put it up front. 

Use a Meaningful Subject Line. Recipients use two criteria to decide what e-mails to open first: sender and subject line. If they know you and know you don't waste their time, they are more likely to read your e-mails ahead of others. If they don’t know you, they use the subject line to determine if they open the e-mail now, later, or never. 

The subject line is one of your most powerful tools for getting your e-mails open and read. Don’t throw it away! Tell the reader what’s inside the e-mail and give them a reason to open it. You do this by using a keyword. This is the first one or two words of the subject line, and it gives the reader a clue about what’s inside. For example, “Approve by [date],” “Review by [date],” or “Decision Needed by [date].” Then put more information in the rest of the subject line. Even if the recipient doesn’t read the rest of the line or can’t see it, they know what’s expected of them.

Watch Your Tone. Tone is what you hear when you read. Have you ever read an e-mail and felt as if you had been slapped across the face? That response was due to the tone. 

E-mail is a cold communication medium. There’s no personal interaction with someone, so the emotional response of the reader is based on how the e-mail is written. You want your tone to be polite and professional. 

Here are a few more tips for tone:

  • Create a punchier tone by using short sentences; soften the tone or make it more formal by using longer, more complex sentence structures.
  • Watch the use of the word you. You can be confrontational and put the reader on the defensive. Use very few you’s when delivering bad news. The easiest way to avoid this is with passive voice. Instead of writing, “We cannot pay your claim,” write, “The claim cannot be paid." 
  • Be polite. Use please and thank you and make requests of people rather than bark orders. Always give people an explanation for your requests. For example, “Can you please send the monthly report a week early because I will be on vacation when it is due?”

Keep in mind that your emotional state is reflected in your tone, so never write or respond to an e-mail when you are upset or angry. Your own emotional state will be reflected in the tone.

E-mail is your most common form of business communication and one of the most frustrating. However, you can become more positively productive when sending and responding to e-mails by adopting these tips.