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
Hey there New and Confused. I can provide a lot of advice and insight on how to write a proper email. Believe it or not, there is a correct way to write emails, especially in a work setting.
First off, I believe that you are hurting yourself by attempting to “impress” your boss. Of course, you want to meet your boss’s expectations and convey your knowledge, but you are probably way over doing it. You should not try to come off as a know it all try-hard in all of emails. Your boss can most likely tell that you are doing this, and they probably do not like it. As I mentioned, you should write your emails in a way that shows your capabilities and knowledge, but do not dig your own grave by over doing it. Some ways of doing this include giving others credit when credit is due. Do not take all of the credit for something if in fact you did not do it all. Another piece of advice is to admit to errors, if you made them, and offer solutions to these errors. If you do not report errors, you are doing something wrong. Finally, if you focus too much on trying to impress someone, there is a great chance that you will forget about the meaning of your work and it’s results, failing to report important information and such. For much more advice on this subject, read this LinkedIn post.
The next step to take in the process of writing efficient and effective work emails is to consider your audience and their technical knowledge of the subjects you are writing about. Once again, we see the idea of considering audience, and this ties right into user-centered design. Let me give you an example. So you are leading this large project and at the end of the week you email out a progress report to all of the employees involved with the project. Since this will be read by many people who probably possess different levels of knowledge for different subjects, do not get super technical with your writing. Write enough for a basic understanding for everyone. This may cause many people to become confused and even possibly irritated.
So that was some advice for discussing the project with everyone involved. If you would like people in certain areas to receive the technical analysis and writing, then write a specific report just for them. This may require more work, but the costs will be outweighed by the benefits. If you cater specific reports and plans of action for each section of workers, they will likely have a better understanding and people will not be annoyed when they receive large reports consisting of terms and concepts they haven’t seen since their time in school. The best path 0f execution I can suggest to you is to send out general reports to everyone and in-depth and technical reports to each respective part of the project.
The aforementioned advice goes hand in hand with what I am about to tell you. When writing an email in the work place, be concise and prompt with your emails. Do not write out all of these reports and information in the body of the email. Instead, briefly give a summary of the report, tasks to be completed, etc in the body and include the reports, etc in an attachment.
There is still so much more advice I could give you, so I am not going to talk about it all, but read this article for a massive list of email etiquette tips. One thing to remember is to avoid using the “Reply All” button unless absolutely necessary. It is quite likely that everyone who received the email does not need to see your response. Also, be respectful, courteous, and professional. Use proper tone, word choice, and absolutely make sure you have no spelling or grammar errors.
One final thing I am going to leave you with should encourage you to always use proper etiquette while writing your emails. According this Huffington Post article, and many other reliable sources, your emails and your reputation are directly linked. Do not allow your reputation to be brought down, or even worse, ruined by simply forgetting to properly write emails. Writing emails may seem like such an easy task, but in fact there is a lot behind writing the perfect email.