Editorial: Write Emails Others Will Love

September
,
2018

I have a love-hate relationship with email. What I love: I can communicate at a time that is convenient for me; I can think about what I want to say before I say it; I can share information with multiple people at the same time; I have a record of what was communicated. My list of hates is probably the same as yours, and in the interest of space and keeping this positive, I won’t get into those. Here are some of the things my coworkers wish everyone sending them email would do.

In the discussion “Office Email Tips to Improve Email Communication” on AIChE Engage (www.aiche.org/emailtips), John Vasko shares his top three tips from the book Don’t Reply All, by project management expert Hassan Osman:

  • Write emails that are five sentences or less. This forces you to remove fluffy language and get right to the point. And the shorter the email, the better its chance of being read and responded to more quickly.
  • Reply to questions inline. Copy and paste the questions at the top of your reply email, and add your answers next to them in a different color or bold type. This makes it easier to read and helps get your point across.
  • Don’t reply all. Not everyone who received the email, particularly the cc-ed addressees, needs to get your “thank you” or “congrats” reply to the sender.

At a recent AIChE staff meeting, Tina Murray emphasized the importance of a unique, specific subject line. Can you guess which of these subject lines is more likely to get my attention: “CEP Article” or “Paper submission to CEP titled …”? Murray also advises that if you are replying to an email chain but are changing the subject in the body of the email, change the subject line, as well; better still, start a new email.

Numerous people stress the need to be clear, concise, and to the point, especially about what you want the recipient to do. Make emails more readable with short paragraphs, headings, bold type, and bullet points. Rebecca Matos advises that when you forward an email chain, summarize the discussion so the recipient doesn’t have to scroll down to read every message; this will make it easier for the receiver to understand and address your request. If your question requires a discussion, schedule a meeting or pick up the phone.

In your attempt to be concise, however, don’t sacrifice completeness. “Send me all of the information (links, names, attachments, etc.) with your question or request so I don’t have to go searching for it to answer you. The more info you give me, the faster and more complete an answer you’ll receive. If you have more than one question, try to get them all in one email so we don’t have to go back and forth too many times. I’d like to give you the most complete answer I can the first time” says Stéphanie Orvoine-Couvrette.

One suggestion that I somewhat disagree with is “stop replying with unnecessary ‘thank you’ emails.” I appreciate a quick “thanks,” “got it,” or “received” to know that my email is on the recipient’s radar. Especially if someone can’t reply right away, I appreciate “got it — will reply in a day or two,” which gives me a timeframe for expecting a response and for following up if I don’t get one. Of course, if others are copied, acknowledge receipt only to the sender, not the entire list of addressees.

Share your thoughts on email etiquette with me at cyntm@aiche.org, or join the discussion on AIChE Engage at www.aiche.org/CEPEmailEditorial.

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Author Bios: 

Cynthia Mascone

Cindy Mascone is Editor-in-Chief of Chemical Engineering Progress, AIChE’s member magazine. She has more than 25 years of experience as a technical editor and writer, including four years as the head of her own freelance consulting business, Engineered Writing. Previously, she worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.

She holds a BS in chemical engineering and engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon Univ., and has been an active member of AIChE and Society of Women Engineers....Read more

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