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Research Triangle Business Advisors
May 2012 Newsletter

Last month I wrote about managing remote locations.  I presented two lists of suggested actions to improve remote management.  Number one and two on those lists were communications.  Since email is one of the most used forms of business communications today, I thought this month we should look at some hints and tips on writing effective business emails.

Bob De Contreras





Writing Effective Business Emails

If you’re like me you probably begin your day by scanning your in-box and responding to the messages demanding your attention. How did you decide which emails to read and which to answer? Was it the subject line or an URGENT status? Are you concerned about what's happening with the e-mails you send? Are they generating the actions you want or expect?

When face-to-face communication isn't possible, what you write and how you structure your words needs to be effective and powerful. Your challenge is getting your reader to open your message, read it, and take the appropriate action. In verbal communications 80% of what your listener hears comes from your tone and only 20% from the words. Your emails can’t project a tone so it is critical for you to use the right words, grammar, and sentence structure to succeed in influencing others to take action. Here are some ideas to help you create emails that get read, have impact, and motivate people to take the action you desire.

1. Subject Line Gets Reader’s Attention. First, the subject line should in fact be the subject – what the email is about.  Don’t use blank subject lines.  Don’t just write URGENT! Not just “follow-up” – follow-up to what? Second, add the action required to the end of the subject. Here are some examples:

  • “Strategic Plan Draft 2 – Provide Comments by 5/30/12”

  • “ABC Company Proposal – Your Input To Budget Page Needed by 5/30/12”

  • “Design Changes Requested by Client – Call Client Today”

2. Keeps Your Reader’s Attention. Craft your message to be easy to read and easier to understand. Be complete and don’t use acronyms, texting shortcuts, and words the reader needs to look up in a dictionary.

  • Communicate your purpose and any required actions within the first two sentences. Then explain or justify the purpose/action in the following paragraphs.

  • Use bullet points to add emphasis to key messages.

  • Use short sentences and paragraphs, but don’t cheat on being complete.

  • When asking to schedule a meeting, provide at least two dates and times for your reader to choose.

  • If you are delivering bad news or trying to correct bad behavior, the opening couple paragraphs explain or justify your view and then state the bad news or required behavior change.

3. Keep Your Reader’s Interest. Keeping your reader’s interest is not easy when you send an email out to the organization or department with “CCs.” This is an often overlooked problem with email.  Your emails need to be prepared for and directed at one person. Think about emails you have received as one of the several people on the CC list.  How often were those emails clear to you? I know it’s hard to believe, but the extra time it takes you to write an email tailored to each recipient will be made up for in results. Gaining and keeping your reader’s interest will set you on the path to influencing them to take the required action. To build and keep the reader’s interest consider some of the following:

  • Tailor to what the reader knows about the subject.

  • Tailor to what you want the reader to know about the topic.

  • Tailor to the reader’s expectations.

  • Tailor to how the action you want them to take will benefit the reader.

  • Tailor to deal with the reader’s preconceived ideas about the subject?

  • Don’t forget to consider what's important to the reader.

  • Prioritize your multiple message point to what your reader needs or wants to hear.

4. Have A Clear and Concise Objective. Minimize miscommunication by structuring your action messages in a way that immediately communicates your opinion, required action, and benefits to the reader.

  • Opinion: To influence and build trust, first share your opinion about your topic. Without this step, your readers could be confused about where you stand on the topic and what you're asking them to do. “I think we need to update our administrative processes.” …

  • Required Action: When you specifically communicate the action you want readers to take, they'll be able to make a decision and start immediately. “Start requiring time reports on Wednesdays, and add a management review to be completed by close of business Fridays.” …

  • Benefits: Your readers want to know what's in it for them. Benefits to the reader are the most persuasive element of your message. “This will reduce the amount of rework you are currently required to do because of time report errors.”  …

5. Where to Start. You will see immediate results from improved emails by making one important change. Reread your emails twice before you hit the send button.  I can guarantee you will find at least one error on each read.  Those errors lead to misunderstanding on the part of your reader and results different from what you expect.

Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | Greensboro | North Carolina
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