Essays > Skill Development — 27 February 2014

Suggestions by Kaiyum about writing e-mails with awareness and care.

Internet and e-mail are essential to our progress and success nowadays, whether in business or at home, enjoying fast and easy communication.

In business and more formal use of e-mail there are many ways to improve the efficiency and value of this medium. (Privately you can of course do what you want – yet there is every reason to apply the same rules!)

1. You shall write something friendly and useful in your ‘Out of Office’ message
Is it important that you’re ‘away’ or ‘out of the office’ until a certain date? Or is it more important when a correspondent can expect a response?

Be creative and polite:

Thank you for your message.
I’m on a business trip and might therefore answer later than you are used to.

Or this version that gives a warm and friendly impression:

After my holidays I’ll be relaxed and my batteries will be fully charged to (again) support you in your business! Thanks for your patience, I’ll be in touch soon after [date]!

2. You shall acknowledge all messages
This does not apply to ‘Cc’ messages that are in the ‘Cover Your Ass’ department.
Remember that although you know you send a message, you cannot assume that the recipient actually receives, let alone reads it, until you get his confirmation.
Consider how you come across when you do acknowledge messages, even by just sending a short reply to help the sender on his way. Could that be to your business advantage?

Tips:
In the ‘Subject’ field write something like:

Thanks for your message, John! I’ll deal with this by Thursday. David

Can’t answer now, totally swamped. Check with Jack! David

Will get back to you asap! David

Delete all of the previous text of the message, leaving just the 4-6 lines of the ‘information block’ (date, time, from, to, subject) under the words ‘Original Message’ for reference.

A sub-commandment is: You shall also acknowledge receipt of letters and packages.
Again, consider how you come across when you send a simple e-mail; use the ‘Subject’ field:

Documents arrived safely, Jack! Will return them, signed, tomorrow! David

Important: some e-mailers who do not use the Subject field, or do not even read (let alone register) this field, might respond with the comment: “You sent me an empty message – what’s going on?”

3. You may number your messages
Situation: after an absence, you have received several messages from one sender, concerning different issues.
Instead of replying as usual, probably with ‘Re:’ and the original subject, give each message a number in the subject field, along with a subject that is relevant to that particular message:

(1) Response to request for more info
(2) Suggestion for dealing with new client
(3) Product development

… and so on. Along with the ‘information block’ of the original message, it’s much easier for your recipient to deal with the sudden flood of answers you send!

4. You shall consider how your message is received
Not everyone receives your message the way you think it looks.
Example: lots of people use Apple computers. There’s a significant chance that a message received on a Windows computer might not reproduce all the original characters. And, because of settings on these computers, it often happens that messages arrive as a minuscule, illegible line on the screen. Either the sender should use plain text, or the receiver needs to ‘forward’ the message or copy the minuscule line to a Word document in order to read it.

And, since many people now use smart phones or tablets for their mail:

Typeface and colour are less important

Use CAPITALS to emphasize a word (since bold or italics may be stripped)

Mention any attachment specifically (for it to be opened later on a computer), and provide the gist of the contents

Keep your message as short as possible, with the most important information at the top

CAPITALS, by some people associated with ‘shouting’, should be used with caution.

5. You shall be aware of hyperlinks in e-mails
A hyperlink in digital communications allows you to click on text that is underlined and in a different colour to reach the site indicated. Hyperlinks only work digitally and should be removed for printed documents.

Hint: remove the link by placing the cursor immediately after it and typing a ‘backspace’.
For emphasis use bold, italic or bold italic, and retain the underscore for active hyperlinks.

10 e-Commandments

6. You shall use attachments wisely
Despite the paperclip icon, it’s easy to miss an attachment while dealing with the daily flow of e-mails.
Always mention an attachment specifically in the body of the message, indicating what it is about:

See attached copy of letter to Review Board.

If the attachment name is just a code (2876rb.doc) mention that file name specifically:

See attached file 2876rb.doc for the letter to the Review Board.

Formal letters should be attached as a ‘protected’ or encoded attachment or as a PDF-file (Adobe Acrobat ™) with its additional advantages.

It is usually significantly smaller than the original file.

Readability is guaranteed in the originally intended formatting; no worries about fonts being absent on the recipient’s computer; no layout issues (USA letter layout vs A4); no software differences (doc or docx format).

Information like previous versions, proofreading remarks or comments from colleagues is hidden.

Security: PDF files can be protected or have an annotation feature where the recipient can still insert any comments, but the creation of an unauthorized new version is excluded.

If you receive a document that you are supposed to alter in some way,

  • first save the original
  • then save it using a new name (adding your initials is usually enough)
  • add your comments to this new document
  • save
  • attach it to your reply before you hit the ‘send’ button.

7. You shall send photos in an appropriate digital size
True, bandwidth in many countries is almost unlimited, but countries with data capping do exist. And smart phone users may have contracts for limited data traffic.
Sending a cute photo of your baby in the paddling pool, either as an attachment or embodied in the e-mail, keeping its 2.5 Mb size is ‘not done’ – unless the recipient specifically requests a high-quality version.
Resizing results in a perfectly acceptable 35-80 kb version of the same photo, which will then transmit a lot faster.
PDF files can be resized to a fraction of the original. Resizing PowerPoint® files is a little more complicated, but worth considering.
Special services like Dropbox™ may be advisable, let alone necessary, for files above 2 Mb.

8. You shall delete all unnecessary content
A majority of e-mailers consider it normal to return photos and illustrations as well as their company’s screen-sized disclaimer along with their short, fast answer. However, there’s a big argument for selecting wisely what you return along with your response.
You have probably received e-mails with ‘Fwd: Fwd: Fwd:’ in the subject field, with a long list of ‘original message’ details from people you’ve never heard of, and maybe also with any number of different disclaimers, ‘end of forwarded message’ lines and 2-3 lines of ‘this message has been scanned for viruses’.
Consider just how many different, irrelevant and potentially confusing signatures appear in such messages!
Continuing the ‘history’ in some business e-mails might be necessary, but only for the most recent information to perhaps save time. AND, there is a better solution, since important mails can be filed according to subject, company or project.

The basic rule is to delete all unnecessary information, especially when you can be sure the sender still has the original.

Let’s assume you, David, reply ‘immediately’ to Frank. Since the e-mail is addressed to you, you can start deleting the header ‘Hi, David!’ and then delete all but a few key words in the first line of the text, adding [etc.]:

Thanks for your input to the program for the Benelux congress … [etc.]

When you wish to respond to numerous points in the main text, use the text field as follows:

Start typing 1-2 empty lines, ensuring a comfortable space between the information block and the message if the e-mail is ever printed.

Avoid ‘Hi, Frank’ as a ‘starter’ but include the recipient’s name in your opening sentence:

Thank you, Frank, for your clear input to the program for the next Benelux congress. See further […] below:

To ensure that you respond to every point that Frank has raised in his message, enter two hard returns after each point you wish to comment on, and place your comment between [ … ] or { … } or after >>

This ensures that no points are overlooked, you can delete text leaving only the key words you are responding to, and you can answer using typeface, size and colour appropriate to your company.

At the very end, you can add your greeting and describe the next steps or expectations, and sign off.

Three final notes:
Many people are used to responding to e-mails by writing their own ‘letter’ (monologue) above what has been received (monologue).

Many insist on maintaining the ‘history’ concept despite its illogicality. Would you send a (paper) letter back along with the (paper) letter and pictures you received?

As people are simply not used to replying in this fashion, it often leads to resistance to adopting an efficient procedure.

Tip: don’t hesitate to cut and paste or write replies between the lines of the original e-mail as this is a specific advantage of e-mail correspondence, making ‘history’ unnecessary.

9. You shall help the recipient to read your message
Consider sending a number of short messages (numbered in the subject field!) – nothing will be missed – instead of one long message, with the risk that points will be ignored.

Start each new sentence on a new line, thus keeping the attention active. The varied line length raises the interest factor.

To further help your reader, label each section with a short, attractive and interesting header (yes, printed bold and without any subsequent punctuation).
And to ensure effectiveness, deal with the most important points first. They then get the most attention.

Kaiyum emailing

10. You shall develop awareness of the usefulness and consequences of your actions

Avoid anything that is ‘standard’ and ‘automatic’. Remember, ‘awareness is all’.

Disclaimer
Have you ever noticed how more and more companies and individuals deem it necessary to add a ‘disclaimer’ to their e-mails? Although it has no genuine legal value, company lawyers insist on it, so keep it simple:

This e-mail and its attachments are subject to the disclaimer at
www.[name].com/disclaimer

Signature
A similar situation exists with the signature block: a line or two of concluding greetings or formalities, a typed or scanned signature, the function, name of company and all contact details. Do you really need to send this to your regular contacts within and outside your business? Consider creating several signatures for different use.

Receipt
Another over-used ‘standard setting’ is the ‘request read receipt’. You might get more receipt confirmations by turning the setting off, and adding a short note:

Please confirm receipt, John!

But only in messages where you feel it really is important.
And don’t be surprised if your request is ignored.

Copies
The culture of sending copies to everyone is growing, so as to prove how hard you’re working, and for most recipients a burden.
Be considerate and aware when using Cc.
Particularly for private mails and when passing on Internet sourced jokes, you might want to use the Bcc field both reducing the risk of spam and protecting the privacy of your recipients.

Useful ‘subject’
Never use the automatically generated Re: or Fwd:.
Always create your own text relevant to your current e-mail.
Try this: start the first sentence of your mail in the subject field then continue in the text field. You’d be amazed how effective this is. Using ‘thank you’ is a great way to start:

Subject: Thank you for your speedy response …
[two empty lines in the text field]
… which really helps me move on the new sales project, John!

Note the avoidance of ‘dear’ or ‘hi’, the use of bold for the name, and the exclamation mark.

Consider using the trick of naming the ‘main topic’ first, followed by the sub-topic or action:

Subject: J&JP Project Proposal: items required for meeting on [date]

Be personal
Since you do business with people, not with companies, be consistent and write to individuals instead of general e-mail addresses.

True, it’s not always possible the first time you have contact and you may have to use a general address such as info@ … or customerservice@ …, but as soon as you have the opportunity, switch to the correspondent’s personal e-mail address.

Kaiyum

Share