Category Archives: The written word

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!

Desiderata

Desiderata is a beautiful poem written by Max Ehrmann.

A rumor persists that Desiderata was written in the late 1600s, possibly because it sounds too far removed from modern life to have been written in the last hundred years, yet it was really written in 1927.

Max Ehrmann

Max Ehrmann

The word desiderata means things that are wanted or needed.

 

DESIDERATA

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

 

Want to read more of Max Ehrmann’s work? Archive.org offers a complete collection of his poetry.