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
New and Confused, congratulations on landing a job! I am still working on that part of my life, unfortunately. As for being in trouble at work, I cannot say that I am in the same place. It seems that you are having trouble conveying the right message to your coworkers, which can be a big problem. I can understand how your situation is frustrating, I have been there before. Sometimes when you have to give a lot of complex information in email form, it does not exactly come across as very understandable or easy to read. Have no fear, there are some easy ways to make sure that your work emails are getting across the information that you want them to.
I do not know what kinds of emails you are sending, so I am going to start at the beginning to help you figure out what is going wrong in your email writing process. This article does a really good job of outlining what your email should, and more importantly, should not contain. A lot of professional writing is about the little things such as subject lines or just a simple read through of your message to make sure you didn’t miss any stupid grammar or spelling mistakes. I do not care how good you think you are a writing and how perfect you are, you’re human and bound to make mistakes. It is better to be safe than sorry as many would say. The little mistakes that you miss can make a large difference in how your boss or coworkers think of you.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, we can get into the nitty-gritty of professional email writing. You have to come to terms with the fact that you will be writing emails until the day you retire, and you will probably continue to write them even when you do eventually retire because we millennials are so attached to technology. One of the most important issues that I think I noticed in your request for help is that your emails are coming off as confusing. When you have to send a potentially confusing email to a coworker or superior, you must consider what they do and do not know. Your boss is not going to want you to go line by line through an income statement, he or she is going to want your opinion or analysis and how it ultimately affects the company or department. When writing to a coworker, who understands the more technical jargon, feel free to include some of the more detailed facts. This article (even though it is a GoodHouseKeeping article) actually shows some good distinctions between emailing your boss and your coworkers. As well as professional emails, it shows the basic etiquette you should employ when you are messaging friends.
Overall, I think one of the biggest things that we all have to realize is that these things are important. No matter how small of an effect these things appear to have on your position, you need to keep the small things in mind. In order to keep your reputation and, more importantly, your job in tact, you need to make sure you realize who you are writing to and maintain a high standard for all of your communications. Like you said in your message, you are too afraid to ask what it means from your fellow workers. Sometimes asking for clarification is all you need to do. It can help you a lot to swallow your pride for a few minutes and actually figure out what is going wrong rather than continue to do things wrong and potentially jeopardize your career. Good luck and godspeed.