Dreadful. You open an email, read through some information, notice a question, read some more detail, hear a story about so-and-so, read another question, then the sender drifts over to a completely different topic, comes back to the original topic, and ends with a suggestion.
Just yesterday I tried again to tackle an email just like this that was two weeks old – it had settled into the bottom of my inbox because it simply was too long and it wasn’t clear what information was pertinent to me. The truth was that I didn’t have time to cull this poorly worded email. That’s the sender’s job! In response to my query about how much time would be needed from my executive to keynote a conference, the organizer responded with details about the number of people at the event, what kind of gifts they would be receiving, her concerns about whether they should have a stand-up or sit-down dinner, and on and on. She never even answered my question! It was agony to decipher this email and in the end, I still didn’t get the simple information I was requesting: “What do you need from me?”
Ineffective emails take too much time to read, have unclear action items and slow down the flow of work in an office. Follow these tips to make sure that your email gets you the results you want:
- Consider Composition: Start with a quick highlight of pertinent information then move on to ask for what you need.
- Keep emails brief! Follow this wonderful rule about writing: if you can remove a word (or phrase, or paragraph) and still keep your message the same, then do it! Initially, this might take some practice as it requires you to re-read what you’ve written. I promise you, this will get easier and you will become a more effective communicator.
- Discuss only one subject per email. Please don’t try to “save time” by including more than one topic in an email. When I complete the action item, I want to file or delete your email. If there is more then one topic, then it means I have to keep re-reading the email to determine my action items.
- Use formatting tools to help the reader process your email quickly: Use short paragraphs rather than long streams of content and use bullet points to highlight information. One of my favorites is to use parentheses (to relay information that is useful but not critical).