Executive Excellence: Email Communication Strategies for University EAs

April 15, 2024


Person Sending Emal

Executive Assistants (EA) who work at a university navigate a variety of dynamics between faculty, staff, students, alumni, and others over email. To do their jobs effectively, university EA’s have to be able to communicate effectively with a diverse range of people with a huge variety of communication styles—from the formal, official language used by official university sources and the casual language used by students to the more business-minded language of younger faculty and the one-word answers sometimes favored by tenured professors. 

Being able to clearly convey information and encourage collaboration among different audiences, while maintaining professional relationships, are two essential pillars of an EA’s job.

So, let’s jump into email communication best practices to help you concisely disseminate information, foster teamwork, and nurture professional connections at your university.

Email Tips for Clear Communication

EAs often juggle multiple email conversations about a wide range of topics, including fall recruitment,new campus policies, and plans for a quarterly faculty meeting, which means they need to keep correspondences readable and straightforward for different readers and occasions.

Consider these three email hacks to keep each thread direct and organized:

  1. Write succinct subject lines that address the email’s purpose. There’s no need for flowery language, keep it short and sweet. For instance, instead of the subject line: Picking a Location for the Spring Faculty Meeting in April, simplify it to Q2 Faculty Meeting Location?

  2. Use bullet points for readability and clarity. It’s very difficult to digest walls of text in an email. Use bullet points and numbered lists to show different date options, list several names, or share policy verbiage versions.

  3. Simplify complex details, keeping crucial details and background information. Omit common knowledge to make emails shorter and only include the most pertinent information. For example, if you’re sending the dean a polished list of revised course descriptions in the Marketing Major Track, be sure to briefly include context that shows how you got there, which could mean attaching other email threads, including an attached spreadsheet with version history, or writing a brief summary.

Fostering Collaboration Over Email

Universities are collaborative environments that thrive on working together. Executive assistants should strive to encourage this mindset in email communications, too.

Here’s how to cultivate teamwork over email:

  • Invite feedback. Encourage active participation by asking for it. Instead of saying you found two caterers for the award ceremony, link to both options and ask which one the recipients would prefer.

  • Send clear meeting requests. It can be challenging to search the executive teams’ calendars and find an opening for meetings when some time blocks are vaguely titled. Create meeting names and timeblocks that are clear, like, VP in Atlanta for Conference, Spring Undergrad Application Review, Teachers’ Team Meeting, Traveling | Offline 3pm-7pm. 

  • Use collaborative tools. Shared Google Docs and project management tools, like, can easily be integrated into your university’s email platform to give you and your collaborators a space to work together. 

  • Make action items and deadlines clear. Busy people stick to timelines when they know the date they must act by. Include due dates for any feedback in bold, clear terms to keep projects progressing. When you send a meeting recap for the interdepartmental meeting, include an “Action Items” section and tag the people in charge of completing each task with a due date.

Strategies for Professional Email Etiquette  

Since Executive Assistants work with internal and external university partners, they seamlessly transition from one audience’s email tone to another’s several times a day. 

Let’s explore the 4 Ps of professional email decorum:

  • Personalize email communications. Use the recipient’s preferred name and title when addressing emails. Most email programs have this information attached to each email address, but if you notice someone using a different variation in their signature, take note of this for future communication. 

  • Promptly respond, even if it’s to inform the recipient of a delay. If you don’t have time to immediately answer the question or take care of the action item by their requested timeline, send a quick email that says, “Thanks for sending this, I will be reviewing your slides on Tuesday and give you my thoughts by EOW Friday.” This shows you’re responsible and professional.

  • Politely ask for clarification. Sometimes you get an email that you don’t fully understand what the ask is. When this happens, it’s best to reply with some follow-up questions so you can work toward understanding. “Would you mind expanding on this point, I’m not sure I’m following!” is respectful and can help clear up confusion quickly.

  • Pause before answering. When it comes to sensitive or contentious topics, it’s important to pause and wait a few minutes before replying. Responding too quickly can lead to miscommunication or not communicating with tact. Write a draft of your response in an email that is not addressed to the recipient and work out your thoughts before sending a response.

    Note: Sometimes face-to-face communication or a phone call can be better mediums for discussing complex or delicate matters. Using your discretion, take things off email when you think it will lead to a more productive conversation.  

Elevate Your Email Communication Skills

EAs play an important part in setting the tone for their university’s communication. Try including these tips in your next correspondence to facilitate clear, collaborative, professional emailing!

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