I came across this excellent, down to earth article this morning on PrintPlanet, one of the regular email newsletters I receive each day. I reckon it has some useful suggestions, so I quote it below in full. I hope you find it helpful.
The author, Armya Inc, from Toronto, Canada, observes that whilst there is any amount of resources available online about presentation skills, there is very little on that most basic of workplace functions —email.
Update May 2018. Unfortunately, the original article is no longer available on the PrintPlanet site.
Not reading your email twice.
It’s the golden rule – just don’t be sloppy. You wouldn’t believe the number of emails I get that have clearly not been read twice. Words will be forgotten, emails can be read repeatedly. It takes mere seconds to make sure what you’ve said actually makes sense. Don’t be lazy, just do it. Proofread.
Deleting the email thread.
I know people have the best of intentions with this one. You want to keep things clean and concise, and I applaud you for that. But generally people receive a lot of emails in the run of day. Keeping the thread attached to the bottom of your email allows people to quickly reference what you’re talking about. It’s not that we can’t find the previous email for reference…but why make things more difficult?
Using unnecessary words.
I know that writing a clear, concise paragraph isn’t everybody’s forte. But consider it an investment in your career to learn how to condense what you`re trying to say. Not sure what I mean? Here’s an example:
Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding this matter, or if you need further clarification on any issues, and I’ll be happy to send over the appropriate materials at a time of my earliest convenience, or to set up a meeting for us to discuss an appropriate course of action for your concerns.
What did you gain from reading that paragraph? Nothing. Always make sure there is an actual purpose for every paragraph you include. And if you’ve written more than 6 paragraphs, consider consolidating your information into another form as an attachment, or going back and reviewing what you’ve said. Nobody wants to read a novella in email form.
CC’ing unnecessary people.
Choose wisely, and be ruthless with who you include. Once you become known as that person who adds in everybody to an email thread people, will start dreading your name in their inbox.
Not prioritizing answers.
I’m a believer that everybody has their own way of prioritizing and responding to emails. You can do whatever you want – but you do need a system. Otherwise it will all get lost in the shuffle. Maybe you need to separate external client emails from internal ones, and respond to customer needs first. It really depends on your field, as well as your personal working style.