Email is the primary channel for communication in the workplace. Traditionally speaking, young people don’t like email as well as texting. Sometimes college students get in the habit of ignoring much of what lands in their inbox.
The 7 Emails You Need to Know How to Write (Unreasonable.is)
You cannot afford to do this in your internships or entry-level jobs.
Depending on your profession and industry, you may send and receive a high volume of email daily…weekly…monthly.
To get a handle on email, develop good organizational habits.
Designate specific times each day to check email, rather than dealing with every email as it pops up. This is more efficient – proactive rather than reactive.
During those checks, process the messages that have come in and take your inbox to zero.
Create email labels (Gmail) or folders (Outlook) to move messages into as you process. The simpler you make your labels/folders, the quicker you can process.
Here are some I use:
- Calendar & Events
- Blog related
- Student related
You can use “A_”, “B_”, or numbers in front of the title names so they line up the way you want them to.
Some other popularly suggested titles include:
- As time permits
- Waiting for response
Give your labels/folders titles that work best for you.
3 Email Mistakes (blog post)
If work efficiency, organization, and time management do not come naturally to you, consider investing in David Allen’s popular time management book, Getting Things Done (see his blog post “5 simple steps that apply order to chaos“), or Kenneth Blanchard & Spencer Johnson’s older classic, The One Minute Manager.
15 Tips for Email
1. Send email TO the person(s) it is intended for.
2. Send a CC (courtesy copy, used to be ‘carbon copy’) to anyone else who needs to be aware of it.
3. Send a BCC (blind courtesy copy) to anyone who needs to be aware of it, and whose email identity you wish to keep private.
There are 3 reasons to use BCC:
- You simply want to keep the top of your email clean without a long list of recipients showing at the top.
- You don’t wish to share email addresses, to prevent the recipient(s) from replying to all or using those email addresses for their own purposes.
- For strategic reasons, you don’t want your recipient to be aware that someone else is also receiving the email. (Never abuse this.)
4. Be specific in your subject line. If it’s just an FYI message, say FYI. If the message includes an important date or deadline, consider including it in the subject line.
Descriptive subject lines…
- Help identify the importance of the message. Readers will decide whether to read the email based on the subject line.
- Help with organization – yours and your recipient’s. Most of us get a high volume of email. A short, yet specific and descriptive subject line helps us relocate an email more quickly.
5. Address the recipient by name in the opening – by first name only if you have established a first-name relationship. In very casual emails, you can skip salutations.
6. State your purpose right away. Most email should be direct. This saves the reader time. (See Mechanics & Effect for the only times you shouldn’t be direct in an opening.)
7. End positively, and courteously. Make actions required clear. This is the place to ask if there are any questions, and to include your contact information.
8. Include an automatic signature that includes helpful information for anyone needing to contact you: name, title, mailing address, email, phone, website.
9. Proofreading can’t be overemphasized. Email is a fast medium – a quick way to exchange data and messages in the workplace. But sloppy practices will damage your credibility.
Edit 3X if possible:
- 1X for spelling, punctuation and grammar
- 1X for clarity, conciseness and high skim value
- 1X for correctness – of information and tone
10. Never let an angry tone creep into your email. If you are upset get a second opinion, or give it some time. Don’t say things you wouldn’t say in person. An angry tone damages relationships. It’s bad for business and it’s unprofessional.
11. Only reply to all when ALL need to see your message. Don’t waste others’ time.
12. Consider deleting unnecessary information if an email chain gets long. This saves time and aids clarity. Keep only the information still needed for context.
13. Email is not private. Your company email is on a network database. You may delete it from your own inbox, but it will live forever on the network database. So never put anything damaging in an email. The number of employees who have been fired because of inappropriate email content rises every year.
14. Have a separate email for personal use and do not use it on company time/computers unless your company has a policy allowing it. And even then, know that if you use a company computer for personal email, the company has the right to monitor it.
Your email can always be forwarded to a secondary audience, with or without your knowledge. Email is not the place to make negative remarks about others, or to engage in a written conversation that could cause you to lose your job.
15. Keep emails professional. Limit emoticons, smiley faces, and exclamation points. Err on the side of caution and be formal unless you have an established relationship that allows for informality. Treat email more like a letter, particularly in establishing new business relationships.
The most common email blunders, according to www.emailexcellence.com:
- Not considering how busy your reader is.
- Delivering too much (and unnecessary) information.
- Making the information difficult to read/skim.
16. Last tip…be responsive. If someone sends you an email, acknowledge that you received it. If they need information from you and you can’t provide it immediately, let them know you received the email and are working on their request. This is common courtesy and will mark you as a true professional.
If you’ve created an “Action” label/folder, the email task shouldn’t fall through the cracks. If the item has an important deadline, put a note on your calendar as a double precaution.
General Information about Letters
Since the introduction of electronic mail, fewer letters are generated. But most companies still send a few.
A letter is preferable over email when something is highly personal (such as specific salary information from Human Resources), formal and of high importance (such as a general announcement about a change in the company’s insurance provider from Human Resources), or sensitive and needs to be carefully handled (like a formal response to a harassment complaint you filed with Human Resources).
Letters are still the norm in certain industries where reliance on a phone message or email would be considered less appropriate, such as the IRS informing you that you’ll be audited or that you’ll receive a large refund.
Letters that are sent on company letterhead represent the organization and are legally binding. If writing letters of a sensitive nature become part of your responsibilities in the workplace, such as part of a collections or claims department, you should receive special training.
Format letters like letters.
Address them to a specific person whenever possible and double-check the name spelling. Nothing starts you off on the wrong foot with your recipient like spelling his or her name wrong.
If you cannot find out specifically who the recipient of your letter will be, address it to a title (HR Director, Hiring Manager, or Claims Representative). Avoid addressing letters To Whom It May Concern. It’s less effective because it’s impersonal.
Err on the side of formality in salutations.
Address to Mr. or Ms. if you feel sure about the gender of your recipient. You don’t have to use Mrs. – Ms. works for all women regardless of marital status.
If you don’t know the gender, address to the first and last name of your recipient in the name line of the address, and use a SUBJECT LINE in all caps in place of a salutation to avoid any possibility of guessing wrong and offending.
Write out dates.
Remember, the goal of your writing is to be so clear you cannot be misunderstood. In some countries the month is listed first; in others, it is listed second. Writing out the month leaves no room for confusion.
Following are two letter samples: a general business letter and a recommendation letter. Each outlines items to consider in each section.
You can also find samples for every kind of business document you can imagine on Google and Google images. But don’t rely too heavily on samples. If your letter sounds rote, mechanical, or scripted, it’s not impressive. You want to sound professional, certainly, but you are best served by letters written in your own words, not the words of a sample off the Internet, including mine.
It’s the same with templates. Avoid resume, report, agenda or memo templates that don’t allow you to think for yourself or be original.
MEMO is short for memorandum: something to remember. A memo is an internal document, meaning it is sent to employees. Memos typically outline policies and procedures. Many memos have been replaced by emails, but those emails still function like memos of old.
A memo has four headers and they were historically written in all caps: TO, FROM, DATE, and RE (regarding) or SUBJECT.
We have CC and BCC in our emails because of memos. CC stood for “carbon copy.” Carbon was used when multiple copies were needed.
A proposal is a written request for something: a bid to do a job or an idea for a new program or initiative.
Proposals can be solicited (an “RFP” is a “request for proposals”) or unsolicited. If solicited, you have to be the most attractive proposal received on some level – you offer the cheapest price, the highest quality, can complete the job the fastest…something. If unsolicited, you have to make a strong appeal or justification for the proposal to be adopted.
Five sections to consider including in a proposal are a hook (to gain attention in the opening), a clear statement of the proposal, benefits (the expected good outcomes), supporting details (timeline, schedule, projected cost, needed resources, etc.), and an authorization request (so you can move forward).
Reports are fairly common in the workplace.
Some are informal (sales reports, expense reports, justification reports for expenditures, minutes of meetings, feasibility reports), and some are formal (up to hundreds of pages long, end-of-year reports, annual reports, stockholder or board reports).
Some are strictly informational, but many are for decision-making purposes, requiring objectivity, formality, strong citations, and accuracy of information.
It’s important to leave bias out of reports. Minimize personal pronouns and “I think”, “I feel”, “I believe” statements.
Don’t use contractions in formal reports. Assume a formal, professional tone throughout.
Many reports today are designed as presentation slide decks or videos rather than long written reports.
If asked to write a report in the workplace, consider adding a Cover Page, a TOC (Table of Contents), an Executive Summary, and a Works Cited page at the end.
An Executive Summary is usually in proportion to the length of the report. A shorter report would have a short executive summary. A longer report would have a longer executive summary.
Headers to include in an executive summary are a Purpose Statement of the report, sources of your Research for the report, the major Findings, and a Conclusion/Recommendation based on the Findings.
Since you wrote the report and most reports are for decision-making purposes, the busy executive who reads your report will be especially interested in this information. You’ll want to remain objective in the report, but don’t be afraid to state your recommendation here, where it is expected and welcome.
Give the report high skim value (bold headers, italicized book and article titles, numbered and bulleted lists, etc.) and illustrate with charts, tables, graphs, pictures, quotes and side boxes whenever appropriate.
An agenda is a schedule or list of items that need to be discussed at a meeting. Minutes are the report of what was decided, and any actions required as follow-up.