Simple revisions may make your email messages clearer and more effective — and actually improve them.
First and foremost, remember that emails are messages. A message may be spoken or written, electronically transmitted or sent with a postage stamp. A message has a goal or objective. That goal, for example, may be to persuade, clarify or instruct. Whichever it is, a successful message achieves its goal.
The challenging aspect of email is that it's become such an intrinsic part of our lives that people usually take it for granted. It seems that if someone creates a message, that message (email) is inherently clear and concise. Just ask the sender — he or she will assure you that's the case.
But a large number of emails achieve no goal—they're the equivalent of electronic noise. The reason is that the recipient struggles to understand the message. Worse yet, many email messages raise more questions than they answer. I don't dare tell anyone how many times I have to telephone the sender of an email and then interrogate them — literally — in order to confirm the objective of their message.
Yes, email is supposed to be fast and timely. Yet when the hallowed email elicits several follow up questions, consider the possibility — a possibility, mind you — that the message was inadequate.
Let's look at simple ways to create adequate, more successful messages that help rather than hinder your business and what you're trying to accomplish.
Remember who your audience is, then tailor your message to that audience. For instance, I can communicate with friends of 30 years in shorthand, slang and/or the briefest of phrases. That format, however, could likely be a disaster when I'm contacting someone I don't know or know well.
The next step is an extension of my first tip. That is, patiently say what you mean to say. When in doubt, repeat the basics of good news writing to yourself — who, what, when, where and why. Saying what you mean to say yields clarity, and that, in turn, breeds successful messages.
Now suppose you spend a minute or two — possibly three — planning your message. There's an old adage that successful carpenters measure twice, cut once. Likewise, successful communicators think twice, then speak or write once. Yes, people think that a moment's delay ruins the message, however, reading e-mail has convinced me that the opposite is true.
OK, let's try applying this technique. Consider this example of an email: “Good morning, Mr. Jones. I am Dan Marinucci, a columnist for Tire Business. One of my colleagues at the paper urged me to contact you. I want to photograph your 'Fantastic'-brand tire changer in operation at your store. Please, what's the most-convenient date and time to schedule this photography?”
This sample email is simple and brief. Equally important, it's also very specific and highly detailed. I suspect that at a glance, Mr. Jones, the recipient, will understand my goal and be able to respond in kind.
If so, then I sent a successful email message and saved everyone time because I did it correctly on the first attempt.
This message passes a vital litmus test for contacting anyone — but especially somebody you don't know. Namely, you needn't be a tire dealer to understand the goal of this email message. I humbly submit that the doctor, lawyer or candlestick maker would all understand what I want this email to accomplish. If anyone can grasp the theme quickly, then it's probably a very clear message.
Clarity rules successful communication, so think twice and write or speak once. Then be sure to catch my next column because I'll expand on other aspects of creating more-effective email messages to better communicate with customers and others.