You might be freelance speaker and publisher but that doesn’t mean you never have to send out a professional email, right? In fact, most of us can’t get through a day without firing off a missive or two to at least a few clients, potential clients, or professional acquaintances. But have you seen some of the stuff out there masquerading as professional communication? Doubtless you have. It probably regularly lands in your inbox. Worse, maybe you’ve been the author of email drivel and wonder why you don’t get a better response?
If you find yourself committing any of the following ten email errors (as related in a Wall Street Journal article), consider this your swift kick in the backside and warning to straighten up and write like you had to read through everything you send.
1. Vague Subject Lines
A lack of clarity in your subject doesn’t make you mysterious or tantalizing. It means you’re sloppy and stands your message a very real chance of either being skipped over for the time being or trashed without even a cursory read. Playing hide and seek meets with little tolerance in the professional world. Tell ’em the topic right up front in the subject line.
2. Burying the Lead
We could all take a cue from journalists here. Put the important, actionable material up front and filler where it should go – after the important stuff. Few email messages get read in depth, they’re skimmed, and if it doesn’t get interesting fast, you know where it’s headed. Delete.
3. BCC Subterfuge
Yes, it’s fun to open a can of espionage with a horde of BCC’s in that field but, if you haven’t found out yet, a simple reply-all can bring your whole secretive house of cards crashing down. We’re not saying there’s never a cause to use BCC but be aware it can be (un)intentionally undone.
4. Clean Up the Mess
Most of us have had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of one of those email chains that has been replied to and passed around more than – well – something that’s been passed around an awful lot. For heaven’s sake, someone needs to have the sense to step up and delete all the extraneous junk from it with his or her reply. It only takes a few seconds and saves everyone from having to scroll through that mess yet again.
5. Poor Grammar
Oh, the temptation to talk like Gomer Pyle in your email communication is there, isn’t it? Don’t deny it. We’ve read your emails. Just because you can talk like a rube in digital communications doesn’t mean you should. In fact, why not put that public school education to good use; capitalize words at the beginning of the sentence AND put a nice solid period at the end of each one. And, for the love of Pete, don’t think that texting acronyms have any place in an actual message.
6. Gone With the Wind Syndrome
Did you graduate from the School of Longer is Better? If so, get over it. We’re all buried up to our eyeballs with email. We don’t want to read hundreds of words when a few will suffice.
7. Long Paragraphs
Another digital courtesy is to break up long paragraphs. It’s hard enough for human eyes to read on a computer screen as it is. Don’t make it worse by refusing to hit the enter bar every now and then. When it comes to email, paragraphs don’t signal so much a change of subject as a brief respite for tired eyes.
8. Common Courtesy
Chewing someone out on an email chain is a very bad idea. Remember to compliment in public and criticize in private. Reverse that philosophy at the risk of offending nearly everyone you meet. Email is a weird little world and sometimes we forget that we’re dealing with precious human egos out there.
9. Email or Die
Do you adamantly refuse to ever pick up your telephone now that you’ve got email? Sometimes it is actually easier and more efficient to let your fingers do the walking. We’re not sure but history books tell us that people used to communicate pretty well speaking into Mr. Bell’s invention. We’ve also heard rumors that people frequently interacted face-to-face with actual conversation, but don’t get too crazy about it.
10. Email Lasts Forever
If you ever needed an incentive to mind what you say in email communication, remember that it lasts FOREVER and has been used in legal proceedings quite often as of late. A good rule of thumb – if you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t write it down, and certainly don’t be the idiot who incriminates himself digitally.
Consider this your crash course in email etiquette. Though it might seem a bit harsh in places, we’re only doing it for your own good. If you’ve been emailing for any length of time, you’re likely to have your own horror story to tell. Don’t be the person who doesn’t learn from mistakes.
The Speaking of Wealth Team
(Flickr / Ed Yourdon)