In my two previous blog posts of this week, I talked about how we are judged by our writing style, and how the loose-language texting of today must not need to creep into our formal consulting correspondence. I’m often asked, “So how formal should our project correspondence be when communicating with the client?” My answer is always the same, “Only as formal as is required to maintain your professionalism.” In my mind, that means all the time.
For this post, I will specifically discuss email correspondence. Here are the first 8 of 16 guidelines to remind you of how you can be an effective email communicator, while maintaining professionalism at all times:
- Always write a subject line. It should be short, to the point, and specific to the content of your email. It should be eye-catching to stand out from the many other emails competing for your reader’s attention.When responding to another person’s email leave his or her subject line intact, unless your response requires a complete change in content or more specificity. This, however, should be rare.
- The body of your email should be, first and foremost, short and to the point. Few people have the time to read lengthy emails; thus, you must become practiced in your ability to get your point across succinctly and interestingly.
- Although emails are thought of as a quick form of communication, the best written emails nonetheless have an opening, body, and conclusion. This construct allows for greater clarity, fewer misunderstandings, and a more professional tone.
- Each email should cover only one topic. If you have more than one topic to discuss, then write a different email for each topic.
- If the body of your email should be short and to the point, then each paragraph within the body should also be short and to the point. Each paragraph should be no more than 3 to 4 sentences, and there should be sufficient white space within the body of the email to invite the reader to read it completely. Use bullet points to be even more concise.How often have you received an email that spans an entire page without a paragraph break? And (confession time now) how often have you deleted that email without completely reading it?
- Your reader may not have time to completely read each email in his or her inbox. Therefore, even if you have kept the body short, make sure that the first one or two sentences contain the most significant aspect of your message.
- If the body of your email and each paragraph within the body are short and to the point, then it stands to reason that each sentence should be short and to the point. That said, each sentence must be written with a proper subject, verb, and object construction, and punctuated correctly.
- There’s a fine line between a formal and a conversational style in writing emails and email responses. Remember, emails can be stored forever, and something that you wrote two years ago can reappear. If you wrote in a highly informal, almost texting-like manner (read sloppy), then such writing can reflect negatively on you years later.By “formal” I mean nothing more than what is summed up in the preceding seven bullets. By “conversational”, I mean a style that is friendly and not stiff, plain-spoken and not full of lengthy multi-syllabic constructs, easy language and avoiding jargon.Write for the ear, not for the eye.
Always maintain your professionalism – especially when using email. Remember: you are what you write.
(To be continued)
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