In more than 35 years as a journalist and communications professional, I've noticed a steady decline in the art and craft of writing. As jotting notes, letters, and even books on a computer has become easier in this age of Twitter, writers are employing less care than ever in their written business communications.
In fact, too many young professionals with whom I work haven't a clue as to how to write an effective email to a colleague, a boss, or a client. Too often, they employ the same casual, sloppy style they might use when texting friends about where to go for happy hour. This can be a fatal mistake for a junior account executive seeking more responsibilities because writing remains a core skill by which most of us in the PR business are judged.
Unclear, imprecise or unprofessional emails only serve to frustrate your bosses and clients and lead them to question your abilities.
Here, then, are 10 tips every young professional should heed before hitting the “send” button.
- Tell people what they need to know.
No more, no less. Rambling emails are among the most annoying pet peeves for bosses and clients.
- Take the time to provide a brief salutation.
You aren't writing to your best friend, you are writing to a person who deserves your respect and attention. Even a brief “Hi, John. How's your Monday going?” will do it.
- Use numbered bullet points.
Make your note as easy to read as possible. CEOs especially appreciate this tip. For example, when reporting on a meeting, you might write: “I had a productive meeting with Mike. Here's what I learned.” Then number each brief paragraph that follows. You will appear to be very organized.
- Include the words “please” and “thank you” in your email.
Doing so will make you stand out in a culture that is growing more coarse by the day.
- Avoid writing sentences that are longer than 30 words.
Busy people must read quickly to stay abreast of their correspondence. Long, compound sentences are hard to comprehend, especially when they're read on a mobile device.
- Describe what action should result from the correspondence.
Don't leave your reader hanging. Let him or her know what action you are going to take or that you are expecting from her.
- Note who is responsible for the action.
See tip No. 6.
- Provide specific due dates — with times.
For example, don't say “Can you finish the proposal by the mid-week?” say instead “Can you finish the proposal by 5 pm Wednesday?” And don't use “COB” as a deadline. Use a specific time. Be precise and you will get better and faster results.
- Avoid giving orders.
Instead, when you need something done, ask when and if the person you're emailing can do it. For example: Instead of: “Get the report to me by 10 am Thursday, write “Will you be able to deliver the report by 10 am Thursday?”
- Provide a relevant and provocative subject line.
Do this even when forwarding or responding to emails. Don't get lazy here. An interesting subject line will ensure your email receives appropriate attention. For example, instead of writing “FYI” or “Meeting Date,” write “Action Needed: Tuesday's Penske Meeting.” In fact, it's good practice to ‘include in your subject line notations such as “Immediate Action Required,” or “FYI Only: No Action Required.” This will help your readers manage their email inbox. Believe me, they will appreciate the effort.