Plain and simple wins the prize. It really is that simple when it comes to email. We’ve all had emails that leave us confused, irritated and with a whole raft of questions, right? If you are anything like me you’ve probably not only received a few, you’ve probably written a few, too! I’ve learned over the years that KISS (keep it short and simple) is a really good strategy when it comes to effective use of email.
When we speak face-to face, we have a rich interaction, filled with a mix of verbal and non-verbal communication. Verbal communication gives us fact, non-verbal gives us meaning. Subtleties – intonation, body-language, gestures and so on – need to be seen to be understood. E-mail is a barren landscape when it comes to non-verbal communication.
I am expressive, and I am often sarcastic. Even people who know me (as I have discovered to my cost) don’t spot my sarcasm, or detect my expression in an e-mail, requiring some repair work and explanation on my part to rectify the outcomes of my failure to use e-mail properly.Sarcasm, expression, emotion all require, as a minimum, the ability to hear what is being said, otherwise it’s lost. And a sarcastic comment interpreted literally will lead to upset, almost without fail.
So, when sending an e-mail keep it plain, and keep it simple. But what does that look like in practice? Well, here are some do’s and don’ts to consider when writing an e-mail:
- Don’t rely on smilies to convey emotion – they help, but they can be misconstrued
- Don’t capitalise words – you may be excited, but you may come across as being angry
- Don’t get sarcastic – unless you follow it with ‘(I’m being sarcastic)’, which kind of negates the point of being sarcastic in the first place, it will be misinterpreted. So, better to leave well alone
- Don’t use long sentences – your reader will get lost, and so will the point you were making
- Don’t write long e-mails – people under pressure will scan them, and things will get missed (I am really bad at scanning long emails and then missing key bits of information that I later get called-out on).
- Do keep it brief – set the scene with the minimum of fuss, and get to your point quickly
- Do use bland language – think carefully about the words you use, and find another if misinterpretation could result
- Do pay attention to grammar – a misplaced comma can transform the meaning (remember we talked about the book ‘Eats, Shoots and leaves’ back in the introduction to this series. That book is well worth a read to understand this point better.
- Do read before you send – you will probably edit as you type, and you may get distracted – before you hit ‘send’, check your text says what its supposed to. Seriously. Check it. Overlooking this simple step can cause all sorts of trouble. I know, because I’ve done it.
- Do write ‘one-shot’ e-mails: e-mails that make one point don’t cause your reader overload
From time to time, I’ve done plenty of the ‘don’ts’, and not done plenty of the ‘do’s', so this list is not exhaustive, and I’m sure I still don’t do things I should, and do do things I shouldn’t, all in blissful ignorance. So what do you think – what would you add to – or even take off – the lists?
Want to read all the posts in the Hidden Art of Email Communication series? You can find them all right here.