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For when I need more than 140 characters to finish a thought on marketing, media or message.

How to not totally suck at email

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Copyright 2013. Jacqui Barrineau.

You would think in 2013 that we as an evolved society wouldn’t have to have discussions about how to write an effective workplace email.

And you’d be wrong.

We get so many emails, IMs and other messages every day that we’re dying from technostress. “Technostress” is not a new term – it’s an old ailment. The theory is the more technology we humans are introduced to, the more we freak out. Perhaps not screaming-and-kicking freaking out, but as message after message pummels us, the stress builds and takes a toll on us mentally and physically. Crying when you get five IMs at EXACTLY the same time is a good example of this First-World problem.

Aw, c’mon, is it really that bad?

Well, think about how many messages we have to respond to in a day – and then think about how much information we have to process. In their 2009 study, UC-San Diego researchers Roger Bohn and James Short estimated in that 2008 that the average person consumes 100,500 words a day. 100,500 words. And that was in 2008. With the explosion of social media and mobile devices over the past five years, we have to wonder how many are we consuming in 2013?

The bad news is there seems to be no end in sight. Until society begins to place more value on calm, effective listening – and no, we have ZERO idea when that unicorn of a utopia will emerge – we’ll continue to suffer as we try to interpret and digest ineffective IMs and emails that fail to inform and only distract.

Ohmigod! I just realized I’m a terrible communicator! How can I change?

While the first step is admitting the problem — “My emails really suck!” — here are five tips to help you change your evil email ways:

  1.  Use the subject field! Indicate why this email is important. There is nothing helpful about no subject line or a subject line that says “Hi!” or “Tuesday.” Tell the reader what this is about, why they should care. Indicate the email’s purpose.
  2. Don’t write in huge chunks of texts. Your reader won’t have time to read it all. Think in bullets. Who, what, when, where, how. There’s a lot of power in brevity. We’re a nation of overstressed people who are skimmers – not careful readers. (If we were still careful readers, there wouldn’t be Twitter.)
  3. Find an effective email font. How about one that was created in the past 10-15 years? Sans serifs are good, but for the love of all that’s 21st century, stay away from Arial that’s larger than 11 points. The white space and lines blur together, making your huge chunks of type even more difficult to read.
  4. Don’t use email as a way to avoid someone. They’ll just find you anyway, and when they do, whatever conflict that’s between you two will only be worse.
  5. Think before you hit “forward” or “cc.”

 
Do you really need to tell us this?

Yes.

An exchange that may seem boring and innocuous between two participants may be interpreted differently by a third. Furthermore, the person you’re communicating with may not want you to share their communication!


To: Manager McButterPants
From: Sad Gal Sally

Subject: Wednesday – doc appt

Hi McButterPants,

I just wanted to let you know that I have a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday for that small insect that has burrowed itself into my left leg and threatens to give me flesh-eating disease. I should be in before noon.

Thanks,

Sad Gal Sally

* * *

 

To: Sad Gal Sally
From: Manager McButterPants
cc: Loser in Cube 3772
Subject: Wednesday – doc appt

Hi Sad Gal,

That sounds fine. Good luck with that insect removal from your leg! Hope you don’t get flesh-eating disease!

Loser in Cube 3772: Sad Gal won’t be in until noon Wednesday. You can follow up on your sales meeting then. FYI.

Thanks,

McButterPants

These five tips may seem silly, but there is serious advice here: If we don’t become more mindful of our messages and how we craft them, we’re just screaming into the hurricane of information — and we will never be heard.

Author: Jacqui Barrineau

Jacqui Barrineau is a writer and editor who lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., with husband Trey, a Shetland Sheepdog, and two unhelpful-but-funny cats. Her work has appeared in "So to Speak" and "Calliope," and she's a regular contributor to the flash-fiction sites Paragraph Planet and Doorknobs & Bodypaint. Once upon a time, she was the audience engagement editor at USA Today. Now she does other fun things that involve advertising, marketing and social media. The views expressed here and in other outlets are hers, not her employers'. Outside of work, she's proud to serve on the Northern Virginia Community College Marketing Advisory Committee. As a committee member, she joins industry leaders in lending their knowledge and expertise to ensure the college's Marketing curriculum is relevant and responsive to the needs of the students and the surrounding business communities.

2 thoughts on “How to not totally suck at email

  1. I just forwarded this to Sad Gal Sally. 🙂

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