I´ve just been sorting through my e-mail after being away from my computer for most of the day. I must be in a surly mood because the e-mail is bugging me more today than it does most times. Much of the e-mail I get is, more or less, a waste of my time. Unfortunately, it´s often hard to tell that my time is being wasted until it´s already gone. That annoys me.
As much as I try I can´t think of an effective way to get people to be more effective in crafting e-mail they send me. What I can do, though, is be conscious of the e-mails I send and share my thoughts in hopes other people will send better e-mail, too. It´s really quite simple, or at least it seems to be, but it´s obviously not innate, or everyone would be doing it. Here, then, are my seven rules of effective e-mailing:
1) Tell me who you are — Obviously you don´t have to do this with people you know well, but there is nothing worse than getting an e-mail from someone and having no idea who the person is. You don´t have to include your entire resume, but throw in something like "Joe Smith introduced us at the basket weaving convention. We talked about underwater weaving techniques.´ That way the e-mail is immediately in context and will make sense on the first reading.
2) Tell me what you want — Most e-mails are written as a call for action of some sort. You want advice, or you want the person to call you, or something like that. Don´t beat around the bush. Just say what you want. By being up front and direct there will be no confusion and people will appreciate that you respect their time.
3) Tell me when you need it — If you clearly set out a deadline for the action you need from me, then I can plan for that. On the other hand, if you don´t include any time line, chances are very good it will get ignored. The best kind of deadline in my mind is an opt-out one — "If I don´t hear back by Tuesday, I will assume you are coming and get you a ticket´.
4) Just say it — If you can say something in an e-mail in 100 words, you can certainly say it better in 75 words, and you can probably say it best of all in 50 words or less. E-mail is not a format for chatting and small talk. Say what you need and move on.
5) Use the subject — Often you can say most of what you need to say in the subject line. Always put a meaningful subject on your e-mail so that people know what it is before they open it, and they can file it easily afterwards. There´s a guy who frequently sends me e-mails and, for every single message, he uses the subject "Hey man!´ Trying to find the one e-mail I am looking for from among the 10 in the folder dedicated to him almost makes me homicidal.
6) Ask yourself if you really need to send it — This is something I do at the end of every e-mail I write. I read it over and decide if it actually accomplishes something. If it doesn´t, I don´t hesitate to delete it. If there are multiple recipients I will take a second to consider if all of them need to get the message, because there is nothing more annoying than being including in a message that isn´t relevant to me.
7) Check the freaking spelling — Nothing annoys me more than blatant misspelling in e-mail. I don´t mind (too much) if it is to instead of too, or there instead of their, but blatant mistakes drive me insane. It´s especially bothersome when the writer and I are supposed to be working together. If he doesn´t care enough to spell my name correctly, or to run a quick spell check before he presses spend, then how can I rely on him when the details actually matter?