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Grammaerobics™: Second Annual Guide to Effective Emails

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Getting your head around email etiquette is easy if you show the same courtesy and respect to the person you’re writing to as if you were speaking to them on the phone. Sounds simple, but it’s true.

  • Respond. If the phone rings, you answer it. If someone emails you, answer it.
  • If you’re out of the office, you’d leave that information on your voicemail along with when you’ll be back, whether you’ll be checking messages while you’re away, and whom (yes, whom) to call for immediate assistance. Do the same with an out-of-office response to emails.
  • Answer all questions. When you’re talking to someone, you don’t just answer the easy questions and ignore the rest. If you don’t know, say so in your email reply and promise to get back to them.
  • Omit body language. People can’t see you smile on the phone. I know, I know, they’re supposed to be able to hear you smile, but that’s a function of voice tone. My suggestion is to lose the smiley faces in your writing. Keep it business-like.  K?
  • Watch your language. It’s never wise to be vulgar or profane on a business call or in an email.
  • Adapt your writing style to the reader. We do it when we speak; it’s called “code-switching.” You can do the same thing in an email: don’t make it sound stilted or difficult to understand. Use conversational language.
  • Act like you’re on speaker phone. On speaker phone you never know who’s overhearing what you’re saying. When you write, you never know who’ll read it.
  • Make sure you are understood. When you’re talking with someone, they can ask questions immediately. In writing, encourage them to get back to you with questions.
  • Use a “call to action.” Before you end the interaction, agree on the next steps. 
  • Similarly, when you send an email to someone, clearly tell them what you need from them in their response and when you need that response.
  • Get closure—Say, “Thanks,” and move on.

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