Email is my favorite form of digital communication. Seriously. I love emailing my boyfriend, friends, and mom with Pinterest photos of puppies, interesting articles I’ve come across, and various links to book reviews, floor lamps, and new restaurants I want to try. I prefer it to texting because texts can disappear, it’s hard to search for them, and they’re just so short! Emails, on the other hand, give you the space (and attention span) to tell a story, complete with gifs and photos, and the ability to search for them days or months later — like when you’re trying to find that pair of shoes you wanted last Christmas.
Emails are also critically important for the workforce; I would say 75 percent of my workday happens over email. Writing good emails is a skill that takes time, and may be an acquired taste for some. Even as an email-lover, I still work on my craft every day! Our world is becoming increasingly digital, so it’s really important to me to communicate effectively online. If you’re trying to sharpen your email skills, keep these four tips in mind.
Find your “email voice” and be consistent with it
I try my best to mirror my in-person demeanor with my “email voice.” Establishing a consistent tone helps guide me during difficult moments — like when I’m stressing out and tempted to react quickly during difficult moments. Rather than just hurriedly typing whatever comes to mind, having an email voice makes me slow down and be intentional with each word I choose. I read back my email to myself and try to imagine how I’d say it in person, or how it could potentially be perceived by someone else — does this come off as snarky, or matter-of-fact? Helpful, or condescending? Apologetic, or indifferent?
Add human touches whenever you can
When I don’t have the benefit of communicating face-to-face, small gestures over email help me to avoid coming off as robotic or scripted. Little touches can make a huge difference in connecting on a human level. This can be as simple as one sentence about the weather (e.g. “Stay dry this weekend!” or “Hope you’re enjoying the sunshine today”). If the situation allows, I sometimes briefly reference a shared experience: “Thanks for coming in last week! We’re glad you could finally see the office” or “Glad we found time for our call yesterday! Great to chat.” This shows the person on the other end of the screen that I recognize their personhood and see them as more than just a task to check off my list.
Proofread your email as if you were coming into the situation blind
Pretend it’s your first month on the job. Would the email you just sent leave you totally lost, or would you be able to cobble together an understanding of the request? I always assume the person reading my email has no idea what I’m talking about. This forces me to be painstakingly clear and direct to avoid confusion. But no matter how hard we try, things can still get lost in translation over email, so don’t be afraid to offer to call someone to clarify or meet in person to discuss.
Resist the urge to be overly apologetic or timid
This is something I often struggle with, especially as a woman who is early in her career. When I make minor errors, I swallow the urge to apologize profusely, and instead say something like “Great catch! Thanks for letting me know. Updating now.” I’m also trying to be more direct about asking for updates. For example, instead of writing “Just checking in on the budget report,” I’ve found it more helpful to ask “Do you have an update on X?” In the day-to-day, I’m working to eliminate phrases like “Sorry to nag…” or “Is there any chance you could…” from my emails. Now that I’m in my second full-time position, I’m getting better at sounding confident over email.
A good email can be the deciding factor for customer service helping us out when a UPS delivery gets lost, or convincing our boss to approve a short-notice day off. But even if it’s not in a work or business setting, writing good emails is still good practice to become a better communicator in all facets of life. Hopefully these tips will help guide you on your email journey, and 2023 can be a year of strong inboxes!
Originally published on March 2, 2020.