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Communicating Online: Write a Good Email … and avoid bad habits!

Email is a quick and easy form of communication. But many of us receive more emails in a day than we can deal with and it's also easy to send a message without thorough consideration of what we're writing and how clearly we're communicating.  

To increase the likelihood of your email being opened, read and understood:

  • Use a clear, reasonably specific but concise subject line to help the recipient judge what the email is about, whether it is of relevance and how they should prioritise dealing with it;
  • Consider the purpose of your email, for example, are you:
    • Sharing information
    • Asking someone to do something
    • Giving a written confirmation;
  • Structure the email with this in mind. Make it clear in the opening sentence what the email is about before moving on to specifics.  Ensure the reader can clearly understand:
    • If / how the message is of relevance to them
    • What action they are expected to take as a result of the message;
  • Keep your message as concise as possible:  it is slower to read on screen than on paper;
  • Avoid using capital letters in your message as it will appear as if you're shouting. Also avoid writing only in lower case.  Both of these will make your message more difficult to read;
  • Be accurate with your spelling and grammar.  An email full of mistakes gives the impression that the sender does not care enough about the information or the recipient to bother getting the words right;
  • Be careful with the use of abbreviations and emoticons. They may be misunderstood or appear too informal.

Avoid common bad habits!

The following are common habits which can cause confusion:

  • Vague subject line – make it clear from the subject line what's contained in the email and what action is required. E.g. is a reply requested; does the recipient need to do something as a results of the email; is the the email for information only?
  • Changing the topic without changing the subject
  • Multiple subjects in one email
  • Replying to all ..
  • Not re-reading before sending
  • Omitting context of reply
  • Replying v forwarding..

And…

  • Misjudging tone – being too friendly or too distant (if in doubt though, err on the side of formality)
  • Attaching lengthy documents / large files and sending to lots of people – use shared workspaces instead…