Responding to Email: How to Create a Positive Impression and Save Time

In the last post, we touched on the modern day plague of Email Overload and how you can make your messages more effective. Today, I want to point out a particular shortcut many people use, why it doesn’t work, and an easy alternative that will work.

Have you ever seen an email that looks like this?

email

Many people view messages like this one as rude or off-putting. Even if the author did not intend to send any subliminal message, people “read between the lines” and a negative perception is created.

In this case, Nate responded to a normal email by inserting his comments into Gloria’s original message. Nate’s intent may have been to shave off a few moments’ effort or to be clear about the specific question he was answering. However, the overall effect is that he isn’t going to take the time to respond to Gloria in a normal way… the way she wrote to him. This impression is strengthened by the fact that Nate’s email is unsigned. Although the message format has saved Nate a few seconds, it requires a few more seconds from Gloria, who now has to scroll through the email to read his response. Finally, adding in more text (particularly red text) clutters the message, making it more difficult to read.

Copying and pasting the relevant part of Gloria’s email into a new message and adding bullets is a small formatting change, but it makes a big difference in terms of the impression it creates:

gloriaThis message creates a much more positive impression than Nate’s first response. The overall appearance is clean and uncluttered, and no extra work is required of Gloria. The addition of a signature also improves the overall tone of the email.

These small formatting tweaks take less than two minutes to complete, and are well worth the effort!

How to Write Email that People Will Read

If you work in an office, you’ve probably felt overwhelmed by your email at one time or another.

The results of a recent survey by McKinsey Global Institute revealed people spend 13 hours of their work week reading and responding to email. That may sound like a low-ball estimate to some, but that’s one-third of a traditional 40-hour work week. Research by the Radicati Group gives us a little more of the picture:

Steady increase projected

Email volume is continuing to grow, but the number of hours in the day are not. Your message is competing with a growing number of others for the reader’s attention.

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 3.46.04 AMHere are a few tips to help your email stand out:

  • Use a descriptive subject line. The subject line is the first point on this list because it is the most important part of your email. People use subject lines to determine whether they will read your email, and if so, when they will open it. Subject lines such as “FYI” or “update” are apt to be skipped over. Think of your subject line like a newspaper headline: it should be short and descriptive of the content, e.g., “Key Points for 2 p.m. meeting”.
  • Keep it short. Have you ever opened an email only to be confronted with a wall of text? It’s a daunting experience! Ideally, a message should be 3 - 5 sentences. Writing short, succinct messages is a skill that takes time and practice. However, the time you invest to keep your email short will pay off. It shows consideration for the recipient’s time, and people are far more likely to read and act on a short message. Note: I recommend drafting your message first, then revising it to make it shorter – trying to make it perfect as you write will disrupt your flow of ideas.

pascal

 

  • Be clear about your expectation of the recipient. If you have a question or are requesting action, use bold or brightly colored font that leaps out at the reader. Include a deadline to respond or act, if needed.
  • Use bullets to communicate the key points of your message. Arrange them in order of importance, beginning with the most important item. Readers appreciate bulleted lists as a way to quickly and clearly communicate multiple pieces of information. It also leaves plenty of white space, which makes the message more visually appealing.
  • Make your subject line the whole message. If you have a short, key piece of information to share, consider limiting your message to the subject line, e.g., “Meeting location changed to the second floor conference room (EOM)”. EOM is a common acronym for End of Message, and senders use it to let people know there is nothing further in the body of the email.

Happy writing!