How to write the perfect email

How to write the perfect email

Email is a mode of communication that is notorious for rubbing people up the wrong way. Misconstrued messages and wayward phrases mean arguments and misunderstandings are far more likely than in face-to-face exchanges.

Email has only been a staple of the workplace for about 15 years, yet it has become ubiquitous and the first medium the people turn to when they want to say something to someone else. Given its relative immaturity, it’s no wonder people slip up occasionally.

So what can we do to mitigate the risk of angering a partner, supplier, colleague, or worst of all, customer? According to Neil Taylor, creative director of language consultancy The Writer, it’s a three-step process:
Write in your normal voice
A recent study showed that misreading someone’s tone on email is responsible for more arguments at work than anything else. The best tip is to read what you’ve written out loud: if you sound brusque or aggressive, it’s wrong.
If you sound too matey, it’s wrong. Just as bad is something which sounds too formal: it’ll make you seem cold and officious. For instance, no-one ever says ‘kind regards’ in real life.

Write to be skim-read
Will your reader print your email out and read it over a leisurely glass of wine? No. They’ll skim it on a BlackBerry while grumpily standing up on a delayed train.

So say your main point clearly in your subject line or first line, use plenty of subheadings and bullet points, and the second you find yourself thinking ‘Blimey, this is going on a bit’, admit you’re trying to say too much.

Remember: your out-of-office is your secret weapon
It’s possible to turn your out-of-office into a positive marketing tool. Creative auto-messages can start conversations or even win business. Can you find something more original to say than ‘I’m on annual leave with intermittent access to email’?

Bob Little of Bob Little PR believes there is a multitude of nuances to check before you hit the ‘send’ button. These range from using proper spelling and plain English, to writing a subject heading that makes sense to the recipient.

But most important of all, he says, you should read through your email, as once it’s gone, it’s gone: “We have all ignored this piece of advice at one time or other – because we were rushing or thinking about two things at once,” he says.

“Nonetheless, your emails will cause fewer misunderstandings and ruffled tempers if you take the time to read them (preferably putting yourself in the place of the recipient as you do so) before you send them.”

Paul Jones

Editor of Business Matters, the UKs largest business magazine

Editor of Business Matters, the UKs largest business magazine