Someone said to me recently that they thought email would soon be a thing of the past, replaced by texting, web site pushes, and The Cloud (is there anything that cloud won’t do?). It’s not unthinkable that email may well go the way of the dinosaur, Betavision, and Sparkly Vampires, however, I wish we all actually knew how to create emails effectively, efficiently and send them with finesse. Rather a large number of people, who send emails on a daily basis, are shockingly poor electronic communicators.
Here, then, before it’s too late, let’s set out some Rules according to Lisa about the ways and means of electronic mail.
This includes all the really pertinent information: who the message is going to, is it going to anyone else, and what the heck is it about. More on all those C’s in a minute, but first let’s talk Subject Line. In the first iteration of the email, the subject line should tell the receiver what the main idea is. If you are not sure that your recipient will recognize your email address, or is not expecting your message, consider putting your name in the subject line as well. Here are a few suggestion subject lines that would let someone in on the sender’s intent:
“From Lisa re: the sale of my car”
“We spoke about this workshop–details attached”
“Please read concert schedule and confirm interest”
It’s probably not critical that you include your name if your email address includes a recognizable part of your name. If your email address is something like “firstname.lastname@example.org”, however, and you are applying for a job or writing to your kid’s teacher, you may want to think about establishing a more neutral identity.
Judicious use of cc and bcc can really add to your email experience. CC (or carbon copy) allows you to include other recipients. So, why, you may be wondering, not just add more addresses to the “To:” line? This is the vital question, so often misunderstood and misused. Add people to the cc field that you want to inform, but do not require a response from, or that you want to make sure know you took action. The BCC (or Blind Carbon Copy) is a bit trickier. You would use it for the same reasons you use CC, but you don’t want the original recipient to know who else has received the message…this one is effective for situations that have become volatile, or where you want a witness to the original message. The most important time to use, BCC, though, is a function very often overlooked. Fill all the recipients addresses here unless you know they are all already known to each other. Revealing a long list of email addresses is poor form…..much like giving out people’s phone numbers without their permission. Sometimes the use of BCC seems nefarious, or at least sneaky, but really you need to look at it as protecting privacy. When you get a message that you are CC’d on, accept it as a courtesy that does not require action. This is used a lot in project management, especially in teams that work remotely, to keep members apprised of what’s going on efficiently. Don’t feel guilty about skimming a CC-mail.
This category deserves a page of it’s own, but let’s just hit the highlights. Think of email as a marker on the communication scale, between The Business/Friendly Letter and Text/SMS messaging. So, you would never start an email with the addresses, dates and company logos, neither would you (or, at least, should you) send an abbreviated “Lk 2 talk 2 U about w/end plans” type text-style message. Until recently, most emails were still composed on full-sized keyboards, on desktops or laptops. With the proliferation of mobile devices and smartphones, you may well find yourself composing emails on a 3X4 screen. THIS IS NO EXCUSE TO BE RUDE. I recently received an email, sent from a smartphone, that was a single sentence, the only salutation was “Hi”, and the single sentence was information that was going to impact my life fairly drastically, and put one other person out of a job. Wouldn’t you think, that even if you were composing that message with your thumbs, you would take to the time to add in the necessary disclaimer of “Sorry this message is terse/abrupt/seems rude, but I am typing on my phone and my thumbs hurt/my eyes are crossing/my train is about to plummet off the bridge into the canyon” (that last one may just be a little passive-aggressive wishful thinking on my part.) So always, always consider how the recipient might receive the information. You can be concise without being rude, friendly without being excessive. They really should teach courses on this stuff….