Tips on Writing Email
This is a website about how to use words to do a better job getting what you want. The content tries to be helpful and focuses mostly on the areas of sales and marketing.
This page is different.
I don’t like email as an advertising medium and I don’t use it. I know that there are many who say it works and that it is an efficient and cost effective marketing media. (Clearly it does work or there wouldn’t be so much of it!) I don’t use it because I don’t like getting commercial email and assume that others don’t either. And even though it is usually dangerous to attribute your own taste and beliefs on a larger audience, I can’t help it in this case. I’m not going to give advice on how to get customers with email and that’s that.
So why publish this page?
Because I do believe that I have excellent advice to dispense on the general topic of e-mail use. Email is so popular that we can often tend to forget that this is a medium that has so many advantages that we often tend to overlook the dark side.
So here is my advice about email: never use email when you have something really important to say. Use it to confirm appointments, to deliver congratulations of to verify factual information. But if you need to talk to somebody about attitude, behavior or misunderstanding, do not use email. Pick up the telephone or, if possible, arrange a face-to-face meeting.
Because unless you are a VERY GOOD writer indeed, it is very easy to be misunderstood in an email. In fact, even if you do write well, the very act of communicating something important or personal in email sends a message. Tell the truth, do you really prefer to receive one of those singing email birthday cards, or a real card which comes in the mail, revealing not only its contents but the obvious fact that the sender cared enough about you to take the time to pick it out and mail it?
When you communicate on the phone or face-to-face you don’t have to depend on words alone. Your tone of voice, gestures, body language and other cues help make your meaning clear. You can joke lightly and be assured of making your point in a way that won’t be resented or misinterpreted. It is much more difficult to do that in an email. Therefore you shouldn’t try.
But it’s so tempting!
This is the heart of the matter. Email is fast and easy. If a boss or an employee or a customer or a vendor does something that gets under your skin you can sit down at the computer and immediately get it off your chest. You can do it at any time of the day or night and you don’t have to worry about being able to contact that person first or to make sure that you’ve brushed your teeth or combed your hair before lashing out. It’s fast and easy to use email. And that is exactly why you shouldn’t do it.
I have seen example after example of wounded feelings because of a hasty email response. Even when the email doesn’t result in an actual outburst of emotion from the reader the resentment often lingers. Sometimes it isn’t even the content of the email that stings but the attitude of the writer. Some people are control freaks and can’t resist telling others what to do. These people are seldom clever enough to mask their pushiness in their emails. Others have strong opinions about politics, religion or celebrities that they feel justified in dropping into email correspondence without thinking about the impact on their reader. Face to face the negative effect would be muted because you could tell immediately if your message was not being received happily and you could change direction. Not so with an email – if you get off on the wrong foot –and you probably will—the damage will be done.
One of the challenges of daily life is that it is pretty easy to do a lot of things that are not particularly good. To live a good life it is important to inject a little common sense and restraint. Yes, email gives you the tool to quickly get something off your mind. But that’s exactly why you should resist the impulse.
Never send an email when you are in an emotional state of mind.
If something gets under your skin and you really have to respond don’t go to your email program. Choose your word processor instead. Take your time and write exactly what you want to say. Tell the offending party how you are fed up with her laziness, or his lack of respect or late payments. Say exactly what you mean and take pains to say it clearly and concisely. Then put it away for at least one full day and reread it. If you decide that it is still bothering you then do something about it. But only after you’ve calmed down and never with an email.