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E-Mail: Its Power and Pitfalls

E-Mail.. Few innovations have transformed the world of communications like e-mail. It’s cheaper and faster than a letter, less intrusive than a phone call, and less hassle than a FAX. Yet those benefits may vanish when writers compose weak messages—burying the main point,  rambling, writing long sentences, sounding insensitive,  or failing to proofread.

Discover how to make the most of e-mail’s power and avoid its pitfalls.  Use these 25 invaluable tips to help you produce professional messages every time you write.

1. Organize effectively to make your point crystal clear.

  • Write an informative subject line. Think of yourself as a headline writer: Be specific, tell the story, and avoid generalities like “information” or “Read this.”
  • Stick to one subject per message.
  • Put the main point up front—in the first 3 lines previewed by your reader.
  • Have a plan for the content. Use relevant information only, and put it in logical  order.
  • Repeat the message thread to provide a context for ongoing e-mail so that a reader doesn’t have to scan previous messages.

2.  Adopt the right tone to deliver positive and polite message

  • Compose yourself before you compose your message. Do not write in anger or in haste.
  • Don’t be overly formal. Strive to sound natural on the page. A pleasant or complimentary  remark is almost always appropriate.
  • Avoid humor or sarcasm.
  • Don’t flame (send an abusive personal attack).
  • Understand when another medium works better. Use telephone or face-to-face conversations in sensitive situations.

3.  Achieve a simple, clear, concise style.

  • Turn a phrase into a word; for example, use if instead of  in the event that.
  • Reduce use of words that clog your writing: it, there, that, which, who
  • Use the active voice whenever practical; i.e., make the subject perform the action.  We’ll handle the shipment promptly, is better than Your shipment will be handled promptly.
  • Write short sentences, averaging 17 words (although length will vary).
  • Before sending, proofread by reading aloud. That’s the best way to know whether your message sounds right.

4. Create an easy-to-read format.

  • Write short paragraphs. Indent and  single space. Leave a space between paragraphs.
  • Use upper and lower case. The look of all capitals is perceived as shouting; the look of all lower case is unprofessional.
  • Avoid fancy formatting features like boldface and italics, emoticons like J, and acronyms like BTW (for by the way).
  • Limit the number and size of attachments.
  • Use a good signature file, 4-8 lines

5.    With every message you write, keep this general advice in mind.

  • Send important messages to yourself first.
  • Use templates for frequently repeated responses.
  • Use the bcc feature to avoid revealing recipients’ addresses.
  • Adjust your messages to account for differences between  formal and informal situations.
  • Recognize that e-mail messages are not secure. They can be read by unintended recipients and may be forwarded without your knowledge.

Publication and Reprint Information

Unless otherwise attributed, all material is written and edited by Susan B. Kline. Copyright © Susan B. Kline 2011. All Rights Reserved. I invite you to reprint material from this website for educational purposes, provided this copyright notice ("Written and edited by Susan B. Kline, © Susan B. Kline [year]. All Rights Reserved.") and a link to sbkline.com is included in the credits.


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