You’ve got mail — and lots of it! Every day, 167 messages whoosh in and out of the average corporate email account, according to the latest statistics from The Radicati Group. No surprise, then, that email eats up a quarter of every workday.
You can make those messages more effective, and polish your image in the process, by keeping a few tips in mind.
Follow Corporate Policy
Start by following your workplace rules. Is it kosher to send personal emails from your corporate account? Should you include a legal disclaimer at the end of every message? What are the guidelines about forwarding jokes, photos, and the link to that YouTube video of stupid dog tricks?
Keep It Short — But Clear
When it comes to email, shorter is better, especially if it might be read on the eye-squintingly small screen of a Blackberry or iPhone. And what’s true for the body of the email is just as true for the heading — don’t make your recipients scroll to find out what’s in store for them.
Clarity trumps brevity, however. By spelling out exactly what you’d like the recipient to do and including all the relevant details, you’ll avoid several rounds of back and forth to clarify what your original message meant.
And because the person reading it won’t be able to pick up on your body language or tone of voice, take a few minutes to make sure what you’ve written can’t be misinterpreted.
Project a Professional Image
A little polish goes a long way. Proofread your message before it goes out the door. Give text-messaging-style abbreviations a miss, along with background images, animated emoticons, and fancy fonts, especially if your recipient is using a Blackberry or iPhone.
A friendly salutation and closing takes up very little space but pays big dividends, as does the liberal use of ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
Finally, a signature line that includes your contact information makes it easy for recipients to contact you off-line if necessary. Keep it short, though; a few lines should do the job.
Address It Right
Beware: it can be very easy to select Joe Boss instead of Joe Buddy from your list of contacts. Always double-check the address before you hit Send to make sure those confidential numbers really are going to the right person.
Copy with Courtesy
Does more than one person need to see your message? When you’re sending an email to a group of people who don’t know one another, use Bcc to protect their privacy. Conversely, choose the Cc function for people who need to interact with one another. If you’re responding to a cc’d message, hit Reply All to keep everyone in the loop.
Master the Art of Attachments
Ever had to follow up an email with, ‘Oops — here’s the file I meant to send’? Get in the habit of attaching that report, statistical analysis, or meeting agenda before you type the cover message. The more messages you send, the more it clutters up someone else’s inbox.
Big attachments can create headaches at the other end, however, so check first before you send off a 10MB file, and make sure your recipient has the right software to open it. If not, there are several free programs that allow you to send large files, such as www.yousendit.com.
Too busy to reply within a day or two? A brief message will reassure senders that their message hasn’t been caught by spam filters or lost in cyberspace. (And speaking of spam, it’s a wise move to check your filters regularly for legitimate emails that were snagged because of a suspicious word or phrase.)
If you’re going to be away from the office without access to email, an autorespond message lets people know when they can expect to hear from you. A word of caution, however: if you belong to any list serves (ie, automated electronic mailing lists), temporarily unsubscribe before you set your autoresponder. You don’t want to deluge your listmates with your vacation notice in response to every posting!
A Word About Privacy
Email can be forwarded — intentionally or not — with the click of a button, so use discretion if you’re criticizing a colleague or complaining about the latest corporate policy. And if you’re sending email on company time or using company equipment, assume that your boss may review what you’ve sent.