Email is one of the great inventions of the 20th century.  But, is it the the worst form of communication known to man?  Or woman?  Or kids, for that matter?  Sometimes I think so.  Seriously!

Let’s face it, in terms of  efficiency, we can do so much more with the speed of an internet service provider than we can with either printed mail or phone. But here’s the problem (and my number 1 annoyance).  When someone receives an email, they read the first line, and they immediately begin to formulate their response in their head.  It’s … not listening … email style!  

I mean, the recipient is a captive audience … right?  They can’t say anything back, so the writer gets to do all of the talking.  Perfect, right?  Well, sometimes not so much.

With our increasingly electronic world, email is a very important form of communication, albeit informal, but should there be rules?  I think so.  There is an art to writing an email, and here’s some great brush strokes! 

You are Blind, Deaf and Somewhat Mute 

One of the most important things to remember about email is that right from the get-go, you have lost three of the most important facets of communication.  You can’t see your recipient to gauge how your message is coming across, you can’t hear what they have to say back, and you can’t use the intonation of your voice to help communicate your message.  It isn’t a fair exchange, and once you press Send, there’s no going back.

Know your Recipient (if possible)

Figure out what you want to say before you hit the keys.  This is the electronic equivalent of think before you speak, and it’s just as important in email as it is in person.  You don’t want to suggest to someone who has perhaps just lost a family member ,that your uncle just opened a funeral home and is looking for new business!  Think about how your message is going to be received.  Is it good news (I’m so happy things worked out for y0u); is it bad news (I know you weren’t expecting this, but …).  Try to be as kind as you would be if you were delivering your message in person.

Be Concise But Clear

Get to the point and communicate your message as simply as possible, but don’t hesitate to add words for clarity in places you might not if you were talking.  Sometimes its a good idea to do away with words like “it”, “that” and “her/him” (pronouns) and replace them with descriptive nouns, even if it sounds a bit repetitive.  For instance, “Take the book back to the library along with your late fee.  They will put “it” into their account”.  Changing “it” to “the late fee” in the last sentence is a bit repetitive, but it distinguishes between the book and the late fee.  Obviously, this is a simple example, but sometimes it can make all the difference in understanding.

Don’t Use Capitals or Bolded Text

Use capital letters only in the appropriate course of grammar, i.e. the first word in a sentence, names, postal codes, etc.  Capital Letters or Bolding = Yelling.  Full stop. Whether you mean it that way or not, that’s how you will come across.

State Your Main Point in the First Sentence

Most professionals get over 100 emails daily, and many recipients will only read the first line before they begin formulating their response in their head.  Don’t waste your time proceeding with a lot of unimportant details that will often be missed.  End your first line with “and”, “so”, “in addition”, “as a result”, etc., to encourage the reader to want to read further, and only continue with pertinent details if they are absolutely necessary.

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Thank You for Your Email

That’s right … thank your recipient if they emailed you first, especially if the email is unexpected.  Someone took the time to connect with you.  Even if they are asking something of you, it will start things off on a positive note.

Be Courteous

“Please”, “thank you” and “may I” aren’t just things we teach our kids.  Email may be casual, but the usual courtesies still apply.

Of course, there is always going to be times when a simple email is appropriate, such as when you are asked a closed-ended question and you know that your recipient will appreciate a quick response.  Email is meant to be a time saver, but always bear in mind that there is a flesh and blood human being on the other end of cyberspace who deserves as much consideration as you can muster.


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