One of of the most common forms of technical writing that you will encounter is email. Emails, like memos, often communicate smaller amounts of information or requests for information.
Now the dominant form of communication in the workplace, emails typically serve as internal communication within an organization. Emails can update policies and procedures, announce meetings or organizational changes, or inform the internal audience as needed. Emails should be brief, concise, readable, and addressed to specific audiences with specific subject lines.
Emails can be sent internally or externally within a company or organization. With this form of business communication, writers must take into account the time constraints most readers face as a result of the sheer volume of email they receive—the average office worker gets around 100 emails each day. With that volume of communications, individual messages can sometimes get overlooked. Following the following five few simple rules will help get your emails noticed and acted upon:
One of the biggest sources of stress at work is how many emails people receive. So, before you begin writing an email, ask yourself: “Is this really necessary?”
Make good use of subject lines
Like news headlines, your email subject lines should grab people’s attention and give them a sense of what the email is about. A well-written subject line delivers specific information without the recipient having to open the email. A blank email subject line is more likely to be overlooked or rejected as “spam,” so be sure to use at least a few well-chosen words in your subject line to indicate what the email is about.
Keep messages clear and brief
Emails, like traditional business letters, need to be clear and concise. Keep your sentences short and to the point. The body of the email should be direct and informative, and it should contain all pertinent information.
Writers sometimes think that emails can be less formal than traditional letters. But the messages you send are a reflection of your own professionalism, values, and attention to detail, so a certain level of formality is needed. Unless you’re on good terms with someone, avoid informal language, slang, jargon, and inappropriate abbreviations. Emoticons can be useful for clarifying your intent, but it’s best to use them only with people you know well. Close your message with “Regards,” “Sincerely,” or “Best,” depending on the situation. Emails are at times shared with people other than the recipient, so always be polite.
Finally, before you hit “send,” take a moment to review your email for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Your email messages are as much a part of your professional image as the clothes you wear, so it looks bad to send out a message that contains typos. As you proofread, pay careful attention to the length of your email. People are more likely to read short, concise emails than long, rambling ones, so make sure that your emails are as short as possible, without excluding necessary information.
Email is familiar to most students and workers, as it has largely replaced print hard copy letters for external (outside the company) correspondence, and in many cases, it has taken the place of memos for internal (within the company) communication. Emails are also used in our personal lives, and in those contexts, it may seem an informal mode of communication. However, business communication requires attention to detail, awareness that your email reflects you and your company, and a professional tone so that it may be forwarded to any third party if needed. Email often serves to exchange information within organizations, but it’s also the preferred means of communicate between businesses and organizations. So while email may have an informal feel, remember that when used for business, it needs to convey professionalism. Never write or send anything that you wouldn’t want read in public or in front of your company’s president.
Email can be very useful for messages of various lengths, it is still best to keep email messages fairly brief. As with all technical communication, keeping audience in mind is key to writing effective emails.
Figure 4.1 is an example of a standard email:
This Prezi slideshow presentation, “Writing Effective Emails,” provides additional information and examples of email language.
The following video, “10 Tips for Writing an Awesome Business Email” from LetThemTalkTV.com: provides some helpful tips for writing successful professional emails:
- “Yes, There Is a Right Way to Write an Email,” an article from TED Ideas
- “How an Editor Stays at Inbox Zero,” a video from The Atlantic on managing email
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"7.1 Correspondence." Technical Writing Essentials. [License: CC BY-SA 4.0] "10 Tips for Writing an Awesome Business Email." Uploaded by LetThemTalkTV, 2 Nov. 2009, Youtube.com.