For all of the benefits of email, there are just as many downsides. Just think of all the time you waste undoing the misunderstandings caused by a joke falling flat, or a quick one-liner causing the team to panic. And let's not get started on grammar and spelling snafus.
1. Be goal-oriented.
Have a clear goal in mind at the start of each email. Better yet, write it down. Even if you never actually use that exact sentence, you'll want to go back and make sure what you've written hits on that point.
2. Get to the point.
We demand greater and greater transparency from our leaders, and even from our email correspondents. We don't like to feel manipulated. This demand has huge implications not only for internal communications, but also for external emails to clients and other business connections, who want to work more openly than ever before.
3. Don't make people do work.
This means showing what's more important and what's less important, and distinguishing between the main point and the detail. If you tell your readers that something is important, you also should tell them what they don't have to know.
Prioritizing your points in an email--and yes, numbering them--will help articulate which elements you value the most. Doing so draws more emphasis to those top items, and saves people from having to read between the lines.
4. Bring your reader along for the ride.
Let your readers know what they're in for throughout your email by signaling progress points. Telling them you're halfway through--as in "Let me pause here for a moment at the halfway mark to recap briefly"--will help keep them attuned to what you're saying. And these points of pause will help bring wayward minds back to the business at hand.
5. Be entertaining.
As much as people don't want to do work, they really (really) don't want to be bored. You'll increase your chances of getting your emails read if you write well and with flair.
Great emails come from practice, editing, clarity, brevity, and a few basic values that are especially important in the virtual world.
Here are the five elements of a well-written email:
Authenticity. Grace of expression begins with authenticity--personal clarity about what is important to you. Despite today's demands to share more of ourselves, you can choose what to reveal. There is a balance between sharing too much and not enough. But people want to know that you're real. You must be authentic.
Consistency. Today, in our rush to get things done, we use mental shortcuts for things that we used to do much more slowly. For example, we tend to use consistency as an imperfect test for establishing trust, a quality that ever more important to us in a low-trust world. We accept that we ourselves can change our minds and suffer bad moods, but we're much less likely to accept this kind of natural inconsistency from others. No waffling.
Transparency. We demand greater and greater transparency from our colleagues, leaders, partners, and other associates. This demand has huge implications not only for internal documents but also for external missives to customers, external stakeholders, and the public. We must be prepared to write it like it is and find grace in that expression of openness.
Empathy. All of us are expected to show greater understanding of, and greater sensitivity to, more and more perspectives than ever before. Being caught out with a lack of empathy for someone or some group can completely derail a text--and a career.
Connection. Readers expect more than just a text from us. When they follow up with questions, they expect a quick response, any time, day or night, weekdays or weekends. People expect to be able to connect with everyone today. All the time.
Internalize these rules, and at the very least, you'll stand a better chance of getting your emails read.