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Writing Better Emails


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Gary Sternberg

Published in: Education, Technology
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Writing Better Emails

  1. 1. 1To: STC-PMC MembersSubject: WritingBetterE-mails
  2. 2. 2Take e-mail writing seriously Despite ease and informality ofpreparing e-mails, need to always beprofessional Consider e-mails formal documents Don’t assume privacy
  3. 3. 3E-mails may be official records Does the substance of the e-mail relate toyour company / your business? Does the e-mail explain, justify, or documentan action or decision? Do you need to take an official action? Will the e-mail be released outside yourorganization?
  4. 4. 4E-mails may be subject to e-discovery E-discovery is any process in whichelectronic data is sought and obtained withthe intent of using it as evidence in a civil orcriminal case. It can be court ordered. It can result in an e-mail being releasedoutside your company even if not intended. It can be done on your computer or throughyour company’s network.
  5. 5. 5Is this e-mail necessary? Does this need to be put in writing? Could you just pick up the phone or visitthe person? How urgent is it? Is it too complicated for an e-mail? Is it too “delicate” for an e-mail? Are you sending out too many e-mails?
  6. 6. 6Know your objective beforewriting Why are you writing this e-mail? What exactly do you want this e-mailto accomplish?
  7. 7. 7Basically three types ofbusiness e-mails Ones that provide information “I’ll provide the report by Monday.” Ones that request information “What action do you think we should take?” Ones that request action “Please approve the report by Monday.”
  8. 8. 8Consider the audience What is the relationship between the writerand audience? Boss to subordinate? Subordinate to boss? Someone in the company? The public? A client? Is the audience general or specific? Are you using the correct name (spelling)?
  9. 9. 9Subject line: Make it powerful Grab attention Make recipient want to open your e-mail Set accurate expectations (be honest) Keep it short Use a sufficiently descriptive subject linethat makes it easier to find later. Should subject line be entire message?
  10. 10. 10Subject lines – ExamplesIneffective BetterDatabase Meeting Feb. 28 to discussdatabase problemsWhen do you think weshould hold the meeting?Wednesday? Thursday?Next Week?Meeting time needs to bescheduled.Employee associationevent underwayThe pretzels are here!
  11. 11. 11Keep your message short Try to keep on one screen Minimize the need to scroll Messages longer than one screenoften aren’t read right away, if at all. Keep paragraphs short – 3-4 lines Have space between paragraphs Consider Blackberry users
  12. 12. 12Get right to the point State purpose in first (topic) sentence(action needed, FYI, etc.) Make it clear exactly what recipientneeds to do Don’t assume recipient will read entiremessage (provide background last)
  13. 13. 13Getting to the point –Ineffective exampleSubject: Please Send Used EPA Documents“Once again, as the end of the year approaches, thenumber of retirement announcements increases.Not only will our colleagues be missed for theircompany, but also for their experience andknowledge. In an effort to preserve as much of thelatter as possible, our documents office welcomesdonations of EPA reports, guidance documents,directives, and other work products as office andcubicles are cleared.”
  14. 14. 14Getting to the point –Better exampleSubject: Please Send Used EPA Documents“Retiring soon? If so, please consider donatingyour EPA reports, guidance documents, directives,and other work products to the documents office asyou clear your office or cubicle.”
  15. 15. 15Clearly identify responsible parties:Who must do what Be as specific as possible Provide enough information to avoidback-and-forth e-mails Avoid improper actions, duplications,and “dropped balls” Use active voice
  16. 16. 16Clearly identifying – ExamplesIneffective example“The procedure needs to be written by Friday.”Better example“Please write the procedure by Friday.”
  17. 17. 17Use newspaper 5 “W” principles Who What Where When Why How
  18. 18. 18Edit and proofread carefully Reread your message before sending Edit for both language and content May want to print out and read hardcopy before sending Use “spell-check” but don’t relycompletely on it
  19. 19. 19Don’t be confrontational Avoid creating an adversarial relationship Be polite – say “please” and “thank you” Calm down before responding toconfrontational or offensive messages When in doubt, ask a colleague to reviewbefore sending
  20. 20. 20DON’T USEALL CAPITALS!(Also, minimize underlining, bold-face,italics, and exclamation points!!!!!!!)
  21. 21. 21Avoid “cute” artwork Can be annoying and distracting Can take up a lot of network space May overload recipients’ mailboxes
  22. 22. 22Use attachments wisely Primarily use attachment to transmita formal, separate document Consider cutting and pastingpertinent information into e-mail Omit attachment from replies to theoriginal transmission unless needed
  23. 23. 23Always be professional, courteous, andrespectfulE-mails should: Be written in a professional manner Reflect well on your company and its values Accurately state the facts Only express opinions if qualified to do so Consider how others “read” what you write
  24. 24. 24Contact InformationGary SternbergPublications CoordinatorU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyOffice of Inspector General1650 Arch Street, 3rd FloorPhiladelphia, PA