Friday, March 25, 2016

10 Rules for Writing Emails

     Emails are great for communicating, especially in business.  They can be composed and sent anytime - no dealing with voice messages, call backs, phone tag, on hold, bad connections, etc.  One communication can be emailed to many people at once.  They automatically memorialize the substance of the communication (for better or worse).  They can be saved, printed, and reviewed or referenced later.  Of course there are times when a phone conversation is better, but generally emails increasingly are used because they are more efficient. 

     To get the most out of emails, and avoid problems, follow these simple rules:

1.  "Picture it on the front page of the New York Times."  So said my old boss about everything you put in writing.  Emails are no different.  Emails generally are not private, protected, confidential, or otherwise exempt from having to be turned over to the other side in matters of litigation for example.

2.  Punctuation, language and good grammar count.  Taking care - and the time - to draft, craft and proof read emails as you would a letter make them more readable, intelligent and compelling, and help prevent sending them off too hastily.  Number individual points or issues to increase the chances of receiving a response to each.

3.  Like phone calls, respond to emails as needed within 24 hours if possible, even if it is just to say Thank You.

4.  Insert attachments first, before you write the email itself.  Insert the recipient's name/address last.  This helps prevent sending emails without the attachment, and also sending them off too hastily.

5.  If in doubt, don't send it out - use the phone instead. 

6.  Don't assume others will read the entire string.  If it is important enough, summarize the communications in your last email in the string.  Especially important emails should "stand alone" and not require looking back at (or for) other emails.

7.  Avoid train-of-thought bantering and conversation via email.  This becomes confusing and potentially dangerous (see number 1 above).  If it looks like its going to be a verbal tennis match, or something amounting to chit chat, use the phone or text messaging.  Phone for conversation; email for communication.

8.  Wait 24 hours before sending a sensitive, reactionary, or nasty email.  You're probably better off not sending it then either.

9.  Rarely is "reply all" appropriate.  Avoid it as much as possible.

10.  Use the "subject" line and do so wisely.  Be brief, consistent and informative.  It will help stay on point and organized, and is good for searching back later.

-David S. Sanderson, Lawyer, Boulder, Colorado

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