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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.
 

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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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