Use Effective Business Email Formats to Drive Results at Work

Symptom:  Your emails don't seem to generate the immediate and decisive action you had hoped for, and you can't understand why.  After all, you have a lot of important and useful information to convey to your co-workers, and your carefully-crafted essay dissected the issue at hand from all possible angles and with multiple embedded clauses and subsections.  What went wrong?  "Maybe everybody else is just not able to think at my high level," you say to yourself...

Cure:  Don't write long, rambling emails.  Make your emails easy for the recipient to read, comprehend, and react to in thirty seconds or less.

Why it Works: Long and complex email messages seldom get read, and are usually a sign that you could be using your time more effectively. Your boss probably gets hundreds of emails per day, and can only read them in between meetings, over lunch hour, or outside normal working hours.  So make your email short and sweet, with clear questions, directions, or calls for action!
Short, Sweet, and to the Point, please.
Consider this situation:  Let's suppose you are worried about the quality of a shipment your company is going to receive tomorrow, and you want to make people aware of your concern and why, and take appropriate action to prevent loss of business and save the company some money.  A noble goal, right?  Let's say it's a shipment of printed circuit boards from Thailand. 

Example 1 -- A very poor email:
Subject:  Some Concerns
Hi Everybody, I was just thinking about some of the things that might be an issue for us in the next few weeks and I think that I may have stumbled upon something we should all take a hard look at.  I know that we are all real busy but it's not a bad idea to think about this kind of thing sometimes.  The shipment we will get from abroad tomorrow or in the next couple of days might have some issues.  I'm just saying we should be careful about it.  Thanks, Ima Badwriter

Example 2 - A much better email:
Subject:  Defective Printed Circuit Boards May Arrive Tomorrow -- Action Required.
Dear Mr. IncomingQualityMgr,
I have been informed through several sources that tomorrow's shipment of 5,550 Printed Circuit Boards from Orient Express Inc. in Thailand may be defective.  Our PO# was 345738, the FEDEX tracking number is 3847639374.

Please have your people ready to inspect the shipment upon arrival. 

Call or email me with the results of the inspections once they are available.

Please let me know if any of this is unclear, or if there are other things we should also consider regarding this situation.

Best Regards,
Ima Goodwriter

I hope you see the differences.  The good email has:
  • A relevant subject line with a clear call to action.
  • A clear request for specific action from a specific individual.
  • Instructions for exactly what is to be done and what to do once the task is completed.
  • All pertinent detail surrounding the situation, so no followup emails will be required to understand precisely what is being requested.
  • An open question to the recipient to contact the sender if anything is unclear.
  • An invitation to improve upon the proposed course of action if there are better ideas out there.
  • All pertinent contact information of the writer, and so on.  

The good email will drive results.  The bad email will just annoy people and limit your career.

Short and Sweet
If you find that your email is getting longer than a couple paragraphs, stop and ask a few questions:  Why is this concept so hard to convey concisely?  Maybe I don't know what I actually want to do here, so I better stop and think about it.  Do I actually need a meeting or a presentation instead?  Or maybe I should just go talk to a few people and try to get a feel for the situation?

If you can't write an email that can be read, digested, and acted upon within thirty seconds, then don't send it!  Get out and talk to people, and stop typing!  You'll be more effective at work, and probably have more fun too!

Will this tip help you write better business emails in a format that drives results?  Then tell your friends and co-workers!  Like, Share, Tweet, or Email below!

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