Writing E-mail: The 6 Cs of Not Looking Like a Total Maniac

The 6 Cs of Not Looking Like a Total Maniac

Yes, I still put that hyphen in "e-mail." Remember when e-mail meant "electronic mail," and wasn't all one word? I do, and I honor that time with a little hyphen. Also, it means that I can make up all kinds of names for things that have "e-" at the beginning. I've been playing this game since 1992.

When you work in an office, it's important to send inter- and intra-office communications that make you look like an effective person, and not like a total wacko. We've all seen e-letters from colleagues that are fraught with grammatical, spelling, and capitalization errors, and e-mails that just don't communicate well. Here's my list of tips for sending e-mails that promote inter-office happiness, and encourage people to read what you have to say:

1.) Be concise. People have significantly short attention spans for e-communications, so stick to the point and people will internalize more of what you have to say. Plus, no one wants to read a lengthy e-mail about how it's really really important that whoever brings bagels or donuts remembers to get enough napkins and some extras really because Nettie has sinus problems and she really prefers napkins to tissues so there aren't ever enough around for other people to share, so get over yourself and keep it short and sweet.

2.) Be clear. Make sure that your email says exactly what you need to say, and couldn't be interpreted to mean something else. E-mail doesn't include a tone of voice, blah blah blah, you know about this part already, etc. etc. If you're writing about several things, give each thing it's own paragraph so that people who want to skim will easily get the gist of what you have to say.

3.) Be courteous. E-mails are often seen as less formal than paper letters, but writing in a formal style is important, especially if you're writing to someone you haven't met. Don't rule out writing the letter to "Mr. __________" just because his email address is "crazierthanthecraziest@idrinktoomuch.com." Even e-mails sent to coworkers you know well could stand to have a greeting, body paragraphs, and a closing.

4.) Be correct. A lack of correct grammar and capitalization can indicate a lack of respect for yourself and the people you're writing to. If you want people to listen to what you have to say, it's important to keep their attention undivided by writing easily-read material. Getting distracted by trying to interpret gibberish words is hung back always donkey tongs, and won't work to your advantage.

5.) Be calm. We all have coworkers that make us totally insane, and make us want to shoot bazookas through walls even when they send emails that say things like, "Hi, We're ordering out for lunch, can we get you anything?" because you can just hear the sniveling tone of voice behind those words. Take a few deep cleasing breaths before you start writing. If you're sending a reply about an important issue, you might consider having a friend or a coworker you trust read your email before you send it. Gmail chat is really good for this!

6.) Be certain. We've all sent accidental e-mails: accidentally "reply all," accidentally sent before proofing, accidentally about cat vomit. Rather than risk it, leave your "To:" field blank until you've read and proof-read your e-mail - it can't accidentally send to no one! Plus, if you're entering your recipients last, you're less likely to let the whole company in on the fact that it's you who's been posting those "Jeff Goldblum is Watching You Poop" posters in the bathroom.

What do you do to keep your e-mails professional and easy to read? How do you handle inter-office communications in general? Give us your ideas in the comments below!

-June the Homemaker

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Great tips! I have long been a fan of keeping the "To" field blank until my email is 100% ready to be sent. Never worth the risk to have a message send prematurely. My tip, for the sake of sanity and time, is to make sure you Save your email occasionally as you write it. Especially in the longer messages, when you are adding links and having to click on different windows to find information and URLs. There is nothing worse than getting that email just right and then losing everything. Chances are, it won't be as good when written the second time around.

June, love that link to Jeff Goldblum you posted. My husband used to have it hanging over our toilet.

Totally agree with concise. When I send out all staff emails I usually try to keep it extremely simple, just a few lines at most. For me my biggest pet peeve is people with huge signatures, pictures and logos included. Sometimes they read like a Wikipedia entry. Reading an email chain with those people can take forever.

Great tips! On an extremely busy day I've actually found myself typing my message in the subject box, and had it sent out to my boss! Bullseye on the short attention spans with email. I'm guilty of this sometimes, and have to force myself to read them several times.

Sadly, most people don't think courteousness and correctness are important in emails, be it formal or informal. Even if we write them on the run, a properly worded email would always be nicer to read, in my opinion.

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