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11 tips for effective emails

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It’s easy to overlook the power of an email message. After all, you probably send dozens every day, often typing them as quickly—and as carelessly—as you write a grocery list.

However, since many of the people you’re writing to receive dozens of emails every day, it’s in your best interest to make sure your messages stand out from the crowd.

You write each email for a reason: To convey information, to ask a question or to get the recipient to do something. But if your email isn’t clear and concise, chances are it’s headed straight for the delete folder.

So how can you make your emails sing? Here are a few tips.

  1. Carefully re-read and spell-check your messages. Don’t forget that email is forever. Be prudent.
  2. Keep it short. People usually put long emails aside to deal with later—which often means never. If you must write a long message, make sure to break it up into short paragraphs.
  3. Ensure the purpose of the email is clear. For instance, do you need the recipients to confirm their attendance at a meeting? State that explicitly in an appropriate place—often at the beginning or end of the email.
  4. Use a short, descriptive subject line, such as “Acme Carpentry’s quote for deck” or “Sales figures for Tuesday’s meeting.” If the message is time sensitive, indicate that with a line such as “Please respond by October 10.”
  5. Use “reply all” with caution. If you regularly send replies to a long list of colleagues who don’t need to see them, they’ll quickly begin to assume any message from you is a waste of their time. Even worse, if you hit “reply all” when sending sensitive information meant for just one person, the consequences can be unpleasant.
  6. Don’t send huge attachments, such as high-resolution photographs, without asking recipients first. Most email servers have a limit on the size of incoming messages and the total memory available for each email address. Emails with multi-megabyte attachments may bounce back to you. Worse, they may fill the recipients’ in-boxes, so that other incoming messages bounce.
  7. Avoid sending jokes to business colleagues and associates. Everyone’s sense of humour is different. If you send enough jokes, you’ll eventually annoy someone—and it could be your boss or an important client.
  8. Avoid inappropriate informality. Remember, emails are a form of business communication. Would you say “Hey, dude” in a business letter?
  9. Don’t email someone when a phone call or personal visit would be more effective. Complex discussions are easier to conduct by phone than email, and emotional situations—such as promotions, awards, reprimands, disputes or terminations—are best handled in person.
  10. If you must handle a delicate or emotional situation by email, draft your message, walk away for a few minutes, and then re-read it to ensure it’s diplomatic and professional. Remember, once you hit “send,” that message will exist somewhere in cyberspace forever.
  11. Develop a short signature line that provides useful information, such as your telephone number, fax number and business address. Don’t clutter your signature line with sales pitches, company mission statements and other extraneous information.

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