The art of email writing

If there’s one form of communication that people bitch about, it’s email. Messages flood our inbox and reading each one can be time-consuming, yet alone responding to them. Before you know it, you have one big email chain.

With such a large volume of messages, how do you ensure that yours get read? It’s all in the writing. If you want to persuade someone to do something (in my case, it usually involves an interview for an article), you need to come up with an effective method to get the response you need. Here’s how.

1. Subject line – In your subject line, you need to get to the point. If it’s an interview for a newsletter article, I state that right up front. With time being a factor for many, I usually like to add the word “quick” – such as, “Need a quick quote for the newsletter”. If it’s something that won’t take long, make that clear so people realize the action won’t take up too much of their time.

2. Tone – Always maintain a pleasant tone. Even if a person hasn’t gotten back to you after two attempts, remain persistent and polite. If you use phrases, like “Following up”, people will know you’ve contacted them before and that they need to respond. Reiterate that your meeting (or other action) will only take up a little bit of their time. Ending the email with, “I look forward to hearing from you,” is again, a subtle way of reminding the person that you’re awaiting a response. Throwing in a “Best wishes”, “Kind regards” or “Cheers” is always a plus. Sometimes signing an email with only your name can be a bit impersonal.

3. What’s in it for them? – As with most things in life, people want to know “what’s in it for me?”. In the case of newsletter/intranet articles I write for clients, many pieces typically highlight a particular program or employee. Everyone loves to be recognized for noteworthy achievements so that’s the chord I strike when reaching out to people. I let them know that they’ll be spotlighted for exemplary work and ten times out of ten, they call me to arrange an interview.

4. Less is more – Busy schedules and shortened attention spans are always a challenge so be sure to keep email messages short and sweet. Summarize your main points in a short paragraph, offering the opportunity to speak on the phone or in person to discuss further.

5. Proofread before sending – My golden rule of email writing is to proofread all messages before hitting the send button. Even the slightest typo can indicate a lack of attention to detail. Treat your emails like regular documents. Make sure they’re error-free and that the sentences flow. People will be more likely to respond to you quickly if your emails are well-written and typo-free.

6. Add a personal touch, if necessary – I recently had to send a mass email to 15 different people inside an organization. Do you know how many people responded to my initial email? Zero. So I re-sent it a few days later (2-3 days is usually an effective rule for a gentle prod). I reminded them that the end of the month was nearing and I needed the information as soon as possible. Including a date is often a good wake-up call for people because it gets them thinking in terms of a deadline. As a result, I started to get some responses. However, there were still a few people who owed me a reply. The solution? Email each individually, and voila, I got my remaining responses. If you opt for one-to-one communication, it adds a direct, personal touch, vs. a group email which many may tend to ignore.

7. Name-drop – Want a surefire way to get a fast email reply? CC supervisors and executives if the situation calls for it. If your contact sees that a boss is awaiting a critical piece of information, include the boss in the correspondence. That way, your message carries more weight. Plus, you’ll be creating a paper trail that shows that you did everything on your end to obtain the information needed.

8. Give thanks – Follow what your Mom taught you: always say “thank you.” Seems like a no-brainer, but during a busy work day when you’re writing multiple emails, the possibility of forgetting to say “thank you” exists. Sometimes adding an exclamation mark is also a good idea – it shows added appreciation and increases your chances of a quick response.

9. To smiley-face, or not to smiley-face? – Ah, the smiley face. Equally loved and hated by many. So is it too cheesy to include in corporate correspondence? Generally, yes. However, it depends on how closely you work with the person you’re contacting. If it’s a colleague you know very well needing an extra prod to do something, feel free to include a smiley face if you feel it’ll soften the blow of bugging the person multiple times. Obviously, if you’re emailing a higher-up, leave the smiley-face to your personal Facebook messages in the evening!  🙂 – Sorry, couldn’t resist using a smiley face here!

10. Timing is everything – Finally, if you’re sending an important email, make note of the best time of day to send it. Since Monday mornings tend to be hectic, wait till early afternoon if possible. I find Tuesdays and Wednesdays to be an excellent time to send emails since by then, many will have gotten caught up. Friday mornings are also favorable since people tend to be more relaxed the day before the weekend.

Follow these words of advice and you’re sure to see results!

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