“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Uncle Ben, Spiderman
I missed the class on writing workplace emails. You did too? Probably because the class does not exist.
Most of us are left to our own devices, so to speak, when composing emails and hitting the send button — forever losing control of our words. This can lead to many problems down the road. How many of us have read, or sent, regrettable emails?
Perhaps worse are the emails that nobody reads because they are long, winding, and unorganized. Want to be irrelevant? Be a boring, rambling, windbag in your emails.
This article gives business owners, HR professionals, and others simple tools to convey effective messages that will stand the test of time — and scrutiny.
WRITING TO WIN
Steven Stark’s Writing to Win is my go-to book for simple, effective writing tips. As Mr. Stark observes, the average person now gets so much email that the tendency is to read a few lines and then lose interest, especially because email is often read while the recipient is doing something else at the same time. If you want people to read your electronic communications you have to take steps to make them readable.
Here are what I believe are the ten best tips to ensure your emails have the best chance of getting read, understood, and acted upon:
- Lead with conclusions: tell your reader why you are writing them and what you want them to do in response.
- Keep it short — 150 words or less: write anything longer than five sentences and you risk that the email will go unread or be forgotten.
- Write in simple English: that’s right, KISS (keep it simple, stupid) applies to emails.
- Assume unknown readers: your email is a “forward” away from being read by many others; anticipate this.
- Pause and think before you send: the heat of the moment is not the time to send an email; put a timer on yourself when you are mad or fired-up and want to hit send.
- Don’t pick a fight: escalating tensions is rarely effective; can you convey a message or viewpoint without using inflammatory or abusive language? Of course you can.
- If you’re writing anything confidential, inflammatory or contentious, enter the recipient’s name in the “to” box after composing the email: this way you do not risk inadvertently hitting “send” and losing control of an incomplete or unintended email.
- Beware the “reply all” button: need I say more?
- Avoid questionable phrases or sentences: Don’t make comments like “I don’t know if this is legal but…” or “I really shouldn’t put this in writing.”
- Don’t overuse email: excessive emails are a nuisance at least and, much worse, risk making you irrelevant.
GO FORTH AND SPREAD THE WORD(S)
Consider putting the bullet point tips in this article directly into your Employee Handbook or a separate email policy. Too many handbooks and policies tell employees what not to put in emails, but omit any mention of how to write an effective email. For help in updating your employee handbook for 2017, or in developing workplace policies and handling business law issues, contact Art Bourque at Bourque Law Firm.
Otherwise, while you ponder your next email, enjoy this brilliant — and really funny — use of rhetoric in response to an attorney’s nasty demand letter (don’t try this at home):