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,
First and foremost let me vent real quick. This is not just for you, but for anyone else reading this. In a large group message, with people outside of your perspective, do not hit “Reply All.” Thank you, that’s all.
Honestly, this is an extremely common issue recent graduates have when entering the business world. It’s entirely reasonable to over communicate with your new coworkers and it’s surprisingly easy to do. There are numerous important tips to reduce the flak received from emails including: leave CAPS Lock off, omit the emoticons, and including a greeting and closing statement. Colorado State University has a unique article on Netiquette that would be really beneficial to peruse. To me the three most important things to remember, especially when writing to large groups, are length, expertise, and individual scope.
“I don’t have time to read a novel.”
Honestly I don’t. A discussion that requires that much time needs to be scheduled for a meeting or phone call. Take into account how busy your readers are, regardless of their corporate rank. Nobody wants to spend twenty minutes reading a single weekly email, much less a daily one. It is important to keep the message brief. Include only the necessary information. Tech Republic sets a limit of roughly two to three paragraphs before moving onto a different medium of communication. I’ll be nice and give you those paragraphs plus five detailed bullet points that immediately display part of your information. This is where it comes down to your unique writing abilities. If you feel capable and have noticed no issues, go ahead and write longer emails if you believe the other parties will appreciate it as well.
“I don’t know why I’m being told this technical jargon.”
This statement can actually come from both sides of your expertise. Those peers that are not as familiar with the intricacies of the product will not understand technical words (much less their abbreviations). On the other side of that it doesn’t make sense to provide a glossary of terms for the engineers that developed the product. “So how do I translate the information to both parties so it’s understood completely?” Unfortunately it might come down to sending two separate emails delineating between complex issues and necessary knowledge. This comes back to saving you and your peer time as well. Two emails is initially more work, but hardly. Think about when each group responds and the message gets so tangle between both that everyone is getting confused. Now it takes time to re-read everything previous and create another coherent message, or you have to split the email now into different parts and possible repeat some information.
“I’m not even affected by this information.”
Now it’s time to differentiate those in your email that require this information and those that are just copied for effect. It’s is incredibly important to understand what each individual member of your team needs to know about the project. This should be talked about at the beginning and revisited over the course of the project through status meetings. To create a detailed, yet brief email it helps to separate groups of people that do not crossover information. It may seem easier to write one email to everyone, describing what different sect need to know, but not only will this upset people, become extremely lengthy, and most likely remain unread it also takes more work later on. Instead send three emails to each program with the necessary, specific information they need weekly. Forbes has an interesting article, relating to this that includes numerous other no-no’s that should also be considered.
Also, do know that these are mere guidelines. If you can write in such an effective manner that each reader is able to easily glean his
or her pertinent information, by all means show the world your aptitude. Be careful, however, and be 100% sure the people around you are actually gaining everything necessary.
Hope This Helped,
3040 and Beyond