Dear 3040 and Beyond:
Help! I’m in big trouble at work. I just graduated from college and I’m leading a really big project. I want to impress my boss, but he says my emails confuse everyone and that I’m basically doing everything wrong. I was afraid to ask what that means. I have to send out lots of complex information to the people on the project every week, so I can’t help writing so much! Do you have any advice about how to write a great email?
New and Confused
Dear New and Confused,
As a third year business student, I understand how daunting something as simple as an email can be at times. Now that I am beginning to close in on the professional workforce, I have realized that there are certain professional skills, including email, that are essential to your success. Just like with many other forms of communication, it ultimately comes down to keeping it simple and easy to understand. Though it may be overwhelming with all the technicalities and conflicting information found around the internet, as long as you remember to always follow this one rule, your emails will invariably become more effective.
Use Your Subject Line Wisely
More specifically, one of the first keys to writing a great email is to use your subject line wisely. As it is a constant battle for everyone to keep their inbox organized and junk free, it will be extremely useful for
your coworkers to know exactly what to expect from your email as they scan through their thousands of other emails. In your case, this would probably include the name of the project you are leading followed by a very brief description of what aspect of the project the email pertains to. By keeping it brief but descriptive, your emails will give the recipients the useful information they need while avoiding looking like spam mail.
State Your Purpose
Once you have the right subject line to make sure recipients open your email, you then need to tell them your purpose and ultimately why they should continue to read. Since emails are generally meant to be a quick and easy form of communication, it is essential that this information is in the first couple of sentences. If you neglect this, your audience will not know why they are reading your email and move onto one of their many other messages. Conversely, by stating your purpose early on you will save your coworkers time, energy, and confusion.
Take it One Point At a Time
When communicating many complex ideas as you are, it is essential to take it one point at a time. This will ensure that your coworkers have a clear grasp on each concept and are able to easily go back and find what they are looking for. A good way to do this is by using bullet points. These make a clear visual break of the various information and again save your coworkers time and energy. Further, if a recipient does experience any confusion, they will then be able to easily reference which section they need clarification on.
Tell Them What You Need and When You Need It
Near your closing, it is important to give your coworkers a clear direction on what they should be taking away from your email. After reading a lot of different complex information, readers could be feeling confused or overwhelmed. By stating what actions they should take and when those things need to be completed, you will give your coworkers distinct guidance and help foster a more productive team. This will also ensure that project deadlines are being met and constant progress is made. Most importantly, this will establish you as a credible leader and make coworkers feel comfortable coming to you for guidance.
The final key to writing great emails is to proofread! Since you are communicating in a professional setting, it is important to act accordingly. By sending an email filled with errors, you kill much of the personal credibility you have built with your coworkers. Further, this is a simple and easy way to set yourself apart from many of your peers.
I hope these can tips help and you don’t create any more confusion in your emails!