E-mail; love it or loathe it, it’s not going away — especially in the workplace. Business email traffic accounted for 55% of all emails sent worldwide per day in 2014 — that’s an average of 121 emails sent and received per day by each one of us.
With all those electronic messages flying around, it’s no wonder we get it wrong so often. From mystifying subject lines to inappropriate use of emoji, most workers have a long way to go before they perfect the art of the professional email.
Harvard Business Review has taken the email frustration we all feel and created a guide to making emails better for you — and everyone else.
Stick to the subject
Subject lines should be concise and descriptive, highlighting the action needed, HBR says. If subject lines are important in capturing your reader’s attention, then font is essential in keeping it. Use clean, easy-to-read typefaces such as Arial, Helvetica and Verdana in a dark colour — HBR suggests using no more than three types in one message.
Emoji are acceptable in a professional email only when the person you’re emailing also uses them. And typos are not always the end of the world. HBR writes that for high-level managers a strategic typo may be a smart idea, to convey authenticity and not make it seem like you are always meticulously drafting messages. However, the line between being emotionally authentic and being unprofessional is thin — so think twice before making an intentional typo.
When you’re sending out email number 27 of the morning, it’s easy to skip over punctuation or not capitalise ‘I’s. Don’t do it. Take a bit of time to polish even the little things. It means less work for the person reading and you won’t have to spend additional time clarifying what you meant to say.
To avoid those sighs of exasperation, keep your email short and neat. Some experts suggest staying within a single screen of reading. Even in a short email, do not send big blocks of text. Highlight the key takeaways and use paragraph breaks liberally. Most importantly, be clear and direct to save everyone’s time.
Think twice and thrice
Before clicking ‘send’, check again to make sure anyone you plan to send the email to really needs to receive it. Copy others in when you need to, but don’t blind copy unless you know for sure that it is necessary, or “it could get you a bad reputation as being indiscreet,” wrote HBR.
While email is often the go-to means of communication, remember that sometimes speaking in person or picking up the phone for a quick call is best. If there is conflict or bad news, written messages can be interpreted differently than intended, depending on the reader’s emotional state. In these cases, meeting in person or speaking on the phone or over Skype often helps to dissipate the tension.
After all, people tend to be more civil and empathetic when dealing directly with another human being rather than pixelated letters on a computer screen.