The concept of email emerged in 1971, and the familiar format — Date, From, To, Subject, Message — is based on the memo format of the typewriter era. Typewriters have gone the way of the dinosaur, but there doesn’t appear to be anything on the horizon to replace email.
Brushing up on grammar is a good first step to improving your electronic business communication. Here are a dozen killer tips from a ruthless editor to help you fine-tune your email skills.
- Leave the TO field blank until you are ready to press SEND.
- Use the SUBJECT line to inform rather than simply to identify; it should read like a headline that briefly summarizes your message and draws in the reader.
- Base your message content on your receiver’s need to know; consider journalism’s 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why (and sometimes How).
- Use standard grammar and spelling.
- Use short words, short sentences (8–12 words), and short paragraphs (50 words or fewer = 3 or 4 sentences) with a line space between paragraphs.
- Use bullet points and numbers to organize information.
- Fill no more than one laptop computer screen.
- Keep your spellcheck function on, but still reread and proof your message before sending.
- Avoid attachments. However, if one is necessary, add it before you start to compose your email. We’ve all received or sent emails that refer to missing documents.
- Reply the same business day, even if it’s just to confirm receipt and advise the sender when you will respond in full.
- Respond to all questions posed, and try to anticipate others to reduce the number of back-and-forth messages.
- In an ongoing thread, change the SUBJECT line if the topic changes.
We all like the convenience of being able to whip off a quick email. It’s fine to take shortcuts for friends and family, but business messages require a bit more care — and time. Build and enhance professional relationships with careful email composition.
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A version of this post about business email was republished in ragan.com. Ragan has since 1970 provided professional communicators and executives timely, practical, relevant information that few can match.Like it? Share it!