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. First off, don’t fret too much. Us as millennials are often quick to jump the gun and assume the worst. While your boss may have been a bit blunt, with a little work you will soon be writing clear and concise emails that everyone can understand.
My first thought after reading your email is to never be afraid to ask for help. I promise just about any manager would rather you ask for help than continue to do something wrong. Just because the phrase “fake it until you make it” is catchy and rhymes does not mean it is even remotely true. A common stereotype attached to millennials is that we are over confident and under prepared. While this may be a very backwards way of purporting this stereotype, it does. Your employer should be well aware of your skill set, and should know if they are asking you to do something out of your means. This article from Careerlink believes you should either find a mentor, just ask a coworker and to simply be up front and realistic. Your managers job is really to be there if you need help, so don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t talk in circles, tell them what you need help with and why you need it, and I am sure they are more than willing to point you in the right direction.
While you do have to write a lot of very complex information, user centered design needs to be used. You have to understand who your audience is, and make sure they can understand it. Dumbing down an email is not in fact dumb at all. This article includes a quote from Bono, “If someone can’t explain to me very quickly what this particular theory is, I’m not coming up to the conclusion that I’m stupid and they’re smarter than me. I’m just saying, You’re not very good at explaining, try it again.” Writing in a way that everyone can understand actually requires a much higher level of intelligence than using all of the big words and jargon that everyone else in the business world uses. It is much easier to google synonyms to the word that you want to use rather than deliver a clear and concise message. As I said in a previous blog post, I believe Aristotle offers the best piece of advice when writing and speaking. Tell them what you are going to tell t
hem, tell them, and tell them what you told them.
Lastly, as painful as it may be, sometimes multiple emails should be written, understanding the not everyone needs the same information from each report. The CEO does not need the same email as a portfolio analyst or head of marketing. While this really may be a pain in the tail, sometimes it is necessary. Sometimes simply segmenting an email may be an effective touch. Segment the email and give each segment a clear heading, and the person reading it can easily find which part they need to understand. 2060 Digital states that emails should be segmented based on location, job title, and need for the information. By implementing these very simple techniques you will be writing much more understandable emails in no time.