Have No Fear, User-Centered Design is Here!
Email is a great example of a communication tool that is typically misunderstood. To a millennial, email may seem like the outdated technology of our parents day but it has remained as a standard for communicating in the professional world. Since our births we have seen one of the most transformative periods of history considering how we communicate with each other. This skill or curse (you decide) can act as a double edged sword for those communicating between different mediums. With each communication technology, whether it be: text, phone call, face to face meeting, video conference, tweet, email, or letter, there have been a set of spoken or unspoken guidelines for the formatting and content of the message.
Understanding these elements and the context surrounding them will most likely help reduce the frustration of a disgruntled co-worker. Not only does the context of the message matter, but there should be equal importance on the content and how the content is presented to the audience. One area of focus that works at trying to create a more user friendly message would be that of User-Centered Design (UCD). This model works as an overarching set of guidelines for how we communicate in the modern day. This model does not limit us to emails solely either, these concepts can be applied throughout your writing. Using these guidelines can help us communicate more efficiently with those around you. There are many forms of communication that can take place in the workplace or outside of it. I found that email has remained a constant form of communication in the world of business and acts as an excellent vehicle to describe and apply the concepts of UCD.
Respect The Address
I can’t think of many employers that would be eager to open an email from SparklySunshineBoy95@hotmail.com. My guess would be that an email address created by a 10 year old (about the time I made my first email account) probably doesn’t reflect who you are today.
I remember seeing absurd names for my friends and my own email accounts. These types of names most likely do not reflect the image you wish to present to a co-worker or employer. If you are currently using such an email address I would suggest moving towards a more professional format such as: “email@example.com”. This allows the reader to immediately see who the message is from and who you are associated with. This would follow the principles laid out in the Purdue Article (linked above or here) concerning subordination and keeping the most relevant information first.
Context: Generating Smiles by Using Effective Subject Lines
The simpler the better. While this may seem intuitive to some of us, I believe it is good to fully understand how effectively your message is being delivered. If we want to apply the principles of UCD we should consider what our message is trying to say and how we want that message to be interpreted. By creating an informative subject line we are telling the the recipient what to expect in the rest of your message. An analogy I found useful for my subject line is to think of it as a short topic sentence that introduces my discussion. Creating a useful subject is extremely valuable as described by Entrepreneur Staff Writer Catherine Clifford, stating, “More than a third of email recipients determine whether they should even open an email based on the subject line alone.” (Clifford, Entreprenuer.com ) Some general guidelines offered by Bill Murphy Jr, Executive Editor or TheMid.com., can be summarized to give a short list of guidelines. I highly suggest reading how each of these concepts apply to your form of communication.
- Keep it short
- Be direct
- Reply quickly
- Reread before sending. And do it twice. (maybe even three times)
- Add the address last (such as a signature)
The Dangerous Ambiguity of Text
In the theme of UCD we want to create a message that comes across in the manner we intend. This is not always an easy task. Societal norms have shaped our communication and these norms gave rise to how content should be presented to particular individuals. In order to effectively get your message across I would suggest you have a friend read your email. We know how our writing sounds to us but we aren’t conveying information to ourselves, we are sharing it with others. We want to examine how our message is interpreted. We can help guide our intent by considering how your words may sound to others. In professional situations such as emailing a co-worker we want to create a voice the conveys your authentic and confident self while delivering your information in an appropriate matter. Again I strongly urge you to have a coworker read through some emails to see if your message is being lost and thus causing frustration.
I hope that these tips give you a great starting point for improving your professional communication skills!
PS: Here is an awesome Infographic I found summing up many of the guidelines for workplace emails! (Hint: Click picture for full Infographic)