Careful use of email can improve organizational communication and morale. Taking additional time to craft an email may save you from having to answer multiple questions, counter misunderstandings, or mend hurt feelings. Here are some questions to ask yourself before hitting send.
- Is the intended communication appropriate for an email? Sharing the rationale for a big shift in a person’s role is best accomplished in person, or over the phone, or video conference. If you have a draft email that covers many complex topics and issues, an in-person meeting should be considered. Your draft email may better serve as discussion points for that meeting.
- Is the subject line meaningful and action oriented? The subject line should convey the main point of the email. Consider using a “kicker” — a short, attention-grabbing phrase that precedes the main “headline”. Example: “Want help engaging students? Sign up for next week’s PD to learn motivation tips!” By asking a question, you generate interest — and you don’t assume everyone needs help (which can feel insulting). The subject line also indicates that some time-sensitive action is needed (sign up before next week), and what the outcome will be (learn about motivation).
- What questions might a reader of your email have? If you can anticipate and answer these questions, things will go much better. For example, if making a request, is sufficient guidance provided to ensure the request can be effectively fulfilled?
- Is the length of the email appropriate? Pithy emails can cause confusion and sometimes suspicion. Why not provide enough detail — or at least some orientation — so those you are communicating with aren’t left worrying? “We need to meet tomorrow. No one is in trouble, but I don’t have time to explain in writing the recent changes coming from the Board.” Of course, if the email is too long and wordy, the main message or action steps will get lost. If the word count of an email is over 250 words, consider revision before sending (this article is about 450 words).
- Is the “tone” of the email appropriate to the subject and audience? Humor and sarcasm are great, but they are hard to effectively pull off in an email, especially if the message is sent out broadly. Remember, email is never private.
- What about timing? While every so often it cannot be helped, avoid sending out emails that demand rapid response times. Consider how timing can affect staff well-being. Can the announcement wait until Monday, so people don’t “stew” and gossip all weekend?
Many additional considerations for email use have been offered. In addition to the above, discussions of angry emails, use of the “CC” and “BCC” function, “reply to all” function, attachments, appropriate greetings and salutations, and more, should all be considered.