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Tips for clear email communication

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Our members and volunteer leaders are inundated with emails on a daily basis. How do you get through, get what you need, and not result in confusion? Here are some email etiquette tips to be sure to follow to make everyone’s lives (yours included!) a little easier:

Tip #1: Be Clear and Concise
Nobody likes to receive an email that they have to scroll through. Can what you are asking for or saying be shortened? Use bullet points to clearly separate ideas, questions, etc. If you’re asking for multiple things, they can get lost in paragraphs of information. Calling them out will make it easier for the reader to refer back to.

Tip #2: Set Deadlines
If you need a response to or action from your email by the recipient(s), make sure to clearly lay out a deadline. Trust me—they’ll appreciate it! I like to call it out in the closing of my email, such as “Response is appreciated/needed no later than 5pm CT on Friday, February 23.”

Tip #3: Use BCC
In my opinion, nothing is worse than being overloaded with emails on a chain that you no longer need to be a part of or getting everyone’s responses. Below are a couple examples of when to use BCC.

  • Example 1: You’re emailing one of your Boards to confirm that a specific set of dates works for an upcoming meeting. Save the Board members from getting everyone’s responses if someone hits “Reply All” by blind copying everyone instead. As a courtesy, make note in the email that the entire Board is blind copied.
  • Example 2: A colleague makes an email introduction between you and another person. Said colleague does not need to remain on the chain back and forth between you and the new person. A simple “Thanks for the introduction, Tim – I’ll move you to BCC now” at the start of your reply to all will cover it.

Tip #4: Don’t Be Afraid to Change the Subject Line!
Are you on an email chain where the topic has changed or gone on a different tangent? Don’t be afraid to change the subject line to match! A recent example: I emailed a potential sponsor to offer them the opportunity to host a cocktail party with a client in Las Vegas. My subject line was “Sponsor Opportunity – Event in Vegas.” Throughout the chain, a marketing person got looped in regarding another topic—we were out of their flyers we typically include with our membership renewal invoices. When I replied to that marketing person, I used tip #3 and moved two individuals to BCC who didn’t need to remain on the chain for this particular topic. I also changed the subject line to “[Client Name] – [Sponsor Name] Inserts.” This way, the people dealing with the sponsorship didn’t need to have their inboxes cluttered with irrelevant emails (but know the other item was taken care of), and it was obvious to me and the marketing person what the topic of the email was.

Tip #5: Reread Before Hitting Send
Stop. Before you hit send, read the email through one more time. Is what you are asking for clear? Are you missing any vital information? Did you set a deadline if you are in need of something? Take a few extra seconds now to cover these bases and save yourself from having to send any further clarifying emails.

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Pinky up! Email etiquette from a correspondence snob

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I attended a baby shower this weekend at which guests were asked to pre-address their own thank you note envelopes. What? I may as well have been asked to write the thank you note, itself. In my book, this is tacky and a major etiquette no-no. If a guest has made an effort to show up at the shower and bring a present, the least the recipient can do is send a personalized thank you card.

Am I a correspondence snob? Probably. When it comes to business correspondence, there are a lot of us. Dozens of business etiquette resources and websites point to the same bothersome trend: that writers have gotten lazy. The days of hand-written letters, even printed business letters, are fading, replaced by email and further degraded by phone texts.

To set you, the sender apart, I suggest the following email tips culled from my own experience and some pretty awesome etiquette websites.

  1. Include a courteous greeting and closing. It’s just a nice thing to do.
  2. “Please” and “thank you” are common courtesies that will take you far.
  3. Initially, address your recipient formally: Dear Mr. Pitt, Hello Ms. Jolie. Use first names after a few interactions.
  4. Know your fields: The “to” field is for those from whom you would like a response. The “cc” field is for those who you are just FYI'ing.
  5. When replying to an email with multiple recipients noted in the “to” or “cc” fields, remove the addresses of those who your reply does not apply to.
  6. Refrain from using the “Reply to All” feature to give your opinion to those who may not be interested.
  7. To be safe, don’t complete the “to” field until you’ve completely written and reviewed your message and are ready to send. How many times have you accidentally hit the “send” button prematurely? “Doh!”
  8. Take the time to review each email to ensure the message is clear and cannot be misconstrued. Check your tone.
  9. Refrain from using too many exclamation points. It’s annoying. This is a good rule for any writing – electronic or otherwise.
  10. If your email is emotionally charged, take a break before you send it. Nine times out of ten, you’ll feel differently in the morning. It’s for the best.
  11. Just because someone doesn't ask for a response doesn't mean you ignore them. Always acknowledge emails from those you know in a timely manner. And if you cannot respond to an email promptly, at the very least email back confirming your receipt and when the sender can expect your response.
  12. Keep emails brief and to the point. Don’t lose your message in a sea of filler.
  13. In a string of emails, feel free to modify the “Subject” field to more accurately reflect a conversation's direction.
  14. When in doubt, go formal. No abbreviations — use full words and sentences (you, not “u”).
  15. And for goodness sake, no crazy fonts or fancy backgrounds.

Lastly, if you need to clarify your message, don’t forget the telephone. I know it’s a scary thing to actually talk to people. Maybe my next blog will focus on the lost art of conversation . . .

 

Sources:
businessemailetiquette.com
www.netmanners.com
101emailetiquettetips.com

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Dos and Don’ts for Outlook Efficiency

Our team recently participated in a webinar detailing how to save yourself an hour every day using various tools in Outlook. It inspired me to review my very first blog post and see what else I’m doing to save myself time every day. I came up with these Dos and Don’ts to make sure you are saving time and not wasting it in Outlook.

DON’T duplicate efforts. There are so many great tools in Outlook—Inbox, Task List, Calendar—just make sure you aren’t over-using them. An example of overuse: keeping an item in your inbox, flagging it for follow up in your task list, and adding a calendar reminder to attend to the item. One of these methods will suffice on its own. Do you need to respond to the email? Keep it in your inbox. Is it something that needs action from you but not a response to that email? Copy it on to your calendar and delete it out of your inbox.

DO sort by date/conversation. This one is an absolute must. It keeps your inbox tidy by collapsing all messages from a single conversation in to a single item, keeping the most recent item on top, regardless of the sender. Bonus: it spares you from the embarrassment of not responding to the most recent email in a conversation. To set your inbox up to sort this way, select View > Date (Conversations) > check “Show as Conversations.”

Wiseman - Sorty by Date-Conversation

DON’T be afraid to delete emails. Guess what? When you delete an email, it does not go in to some deep, dark black hole of forgotten emails. Keep your inbox tidy so it can be your to-do list! Delete emails that you’ve attended to—you can always search through your “Deleted” folder later on if you need it.

DO use the “recurring” feature on your Calendar. There are so many tasks that I only need to do once a month or even once a year that I would completely forget about if they were not on my calendar. To speed things up, I use the “recurring” feature (Appointment > Recurrence). You can set it to recur daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. Within the weekly option, you can specify certain days of the week (MWF? Tues-Thurs?). For monthly, you can select a specific date (10th of the month) or week (second Friday of the month). Yearly has the same options.

Wiseman - Calendar Recurrence

DO use “Drafts” to save time. I find myself sending the same emails over and over: responding to questions about a specific event, detailing steps on how to access a certain portion of a website, etc. When I notice this happening, I save a draft of the email: open a new message, type or paste the message, close out, hit “Yes” to save changes —this saves it as a draft. The email is now in my draft folder for quick copy-and-paste access when I’m responding to an email.

Wiseman - Save changes

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Inboxes and emails and tasks…Oh my!!

Working with several different clients means working with several different inboxes. More inboxes means more emails. More emails means more tasks to keep track of! Over time, I’ve learned how to make my inbox work for me and not against me.

My number one rule: I use my inbox as a to-do list and don’t let items pile up. I’ve heard several time management gurus talk about closing your inbox and only checking emails at specific times. I don’t believe in this. Members want answers and they want answers now. This doesn’t mean I constantly have my inbox open reading and responding to emails, it means that I monitor the subject lines as they pop up at the bottom of my screen. If it looks like something that A) I can easily respond to in under two minutes or B) needs immediate attention, I take care of it and then delete it. The remaining emails are on my “to-do” list, whether they are items that I need more time to take care of or those that just didn’t need an immediate response.

Secondly, “Waiting for Response” folders are lifesavers. If I’m sending an email that requires the person to respond as part of an important task, I blind copy myself. When it comes back to me, I drop it into my “Waiting for Response” folder for the appropriate client (to save a step, I could even set up a rule that says, “If I’m blind copied on an email that I send, go to this folder”). This way, I have one folder with everything that I am waiting on people for—much easier than searching through my sent/deleted items or trying to remember it all. It also keeps things out of my inbox/to-do list. When I’ve received a sufficient answer, I delete it from the folder. If something is hanging around in the folder for more than a few days, I know exactly who I need to follow up with.

To ensure that I don’t forget about items in my “Waiting for Response” folders, I change the settings so that it shows how many total messages are in the folder and not just how many are unread.

Lastly, Outlook inboxes have standard columns such as “From,” “Subject,” Received,” and “Categories.” For the items that are left in my actual inbox/to-do list, I add a column for “Notes” to keep track of the status of the task or important things I need to remember. For example, a board member might send me a lengthy email, but there is really only one task I need to complete. I call that task out in my “Notes” column rather than having to re-read the entire email to remember what it was.

These are just some of the tips I use to keep my inbox squeaky clean and manageable. What tricks do you use?

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