YOU Magazine - June 2006 - Lost in Translation How to Write an Effective Email Subscribe to YOU Magazine and other timely market alerts from Your Name Here .

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Lost in Translation
How to Write an Effective Email

Lost in Translation - How to Write an Effective Email

In today's high-tech world, it seems as though everyone is using email on some level. Whether you're downloading it on a weekly basis or receiving it in real time on your BlackBerry™, there's no denying that electronic mail is here to stay. According to, Microsoft's initiative to support small business owners, the number of individuals with Internet connectivity reached 1 billion in 2005. With such a large number of people communicating online, the ability to write an effective email is only becoming more important with each passing day.

Most of us have been on the receiving end of ineffective emails or ones that come off differently than intended. Then there's the email, usually from a friend or co-worker, with a message that's so befuddled you can't even begin to make heads or tails of it. There's also the issue of writing an email that ends up never being seen by the reader. This frequently happens when writing to newer users, whose inboxes are bursting at the seams with spam for everything from Viagra to bogus stock tips.

These are very real problems; and most of us come dangerously close to becoming entangled in them on a daily basis. Here at YOU Magazine, we decided to take a closer look at this issue and how to solve it. We have compiled some tips that will help you to communicate your message clearly and ensure that it's read. Before we get started, let's explore some of the pitfalls of emailing.

The first pitfall has to do with numbers. If you take the quantity of people who have online access, combine this with the quick turnaround time of an email and its relatively low cost, what you'll get is an awful lot of emailing. Before you send out electronic correspondence, keep in mind that you may be competing with a large number of people with similar interests. This makes it even more important to get your message right.

Secondly, because the turnaround time is so fast, writing contained in emails is inherently sloppy. This includes everything from the planning stage to the proofreading. So while you're saving time by using this technology, it's still worth investing the extra minutes needed to keep it error-free.

The third pitfall to keep in mind is that email is conversational; but it's a conversation which contains no vocal inflections or body language. These problems are typically nonexistent in letter writing due to its more formal nature. A perfect example of this is sarcasm. This technique may work when delivered in person. In terms of emailing, however, sarcasm could mean the difference between getting a promotion and losing one. That being said, here are some of the things you should do when writing an email:

Have a Meaningful Subject Line
This is important for two reasons. First, anything that appears insignificant could very well get lost in the shuffle. A subject line needs to contain information that's not only important to the reader but interesting as well. Secondly, it needs to give the reader an idea of what they can expect upon opening the email. Having a subject line that's unrelated to the email is a recipe for miscommunication and possible disaster.

Keep Focused
When a writer strays off topic, so will the reader. Figure out what your message is and stick to it. If you have several messages, it's actually better to write several emails. This will ensure that each message has focus, enabling the reader to respond to them (or not) with equal focus.

Also, always begin your email with your most important points. It's been shown that most people scan emails, losing interest the further they go. By starting with your less important material, you increase the likelihood that your email won't get the attention it requires. This is also why it's important for the message to be as succinct as possible and outlined (at least in your head) before it's written.

Play by the Rules
Do yourself a favor and follow the rules of standard capitalization and spelling. Capitalizing everything is the equivalent of shouting, and using all lower case is amateurish at best. Text messaging has caused many of us to abridge the spelling of certain words. Writing an email this way will translate into a pedestrian attempt and convey the wrong message.

Also, avoid using fancy fonts as well as your "Tab" button. Many people's email readers aren't equipped to handle strange fonts or indentions. Use standard fonts such as Times New Roman or Arial. When you begin a new paragraph, try skipping a line rather than tabbing over.

Avoid Spamming and Attachments
Everyone has at least one friend who has sent so many frivolous emails that you no longer even bother to look at their messages. Don't become that person.

Attachments aren't necessarily a bad thing; however, the rule is that if you can fit your message within the body of an email, then you should do so. Attachments take time to download, may carry viruses, and take up space on a recipient's hard drive. In addition, they don't always translate, especially if the reader is opening the email on a PDA.

Be Nice
Being overly critical in an email or disciplining via email is tacky and can lead to more trouble. These are both examples of situations which are better suited for a conversation, rather than an email.

It's also important to keep in mind that email is not always confidential. Once you've put something in writing, it can be used against you at a later time, potentially even in court. Delicate situations require your personal attention. Do not take the easy way out and risk having it haunt you down the road.

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
Regardless of the author, if an email is being sent out on your behalf, it is your responsibility to proofread it. Not just once, but two or three times. Remember, once you hit the send button, you can never take it back. If the email is extremely important in nature, you may want an objective, third party to proofread it as well. This will help to ensure that the intended message is perceived properly.

One final tip to keep in mind is always respond to emails as promptly as possible. Nobody likes it when they send an email only to receive a reply, along with an excuse, weeks later. Being timely with your response is a great first step towards achieving clear and courteous communications.

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