We can all sympathize with having to cut corners. Work can be stressful and sometimes we rush things to get everything done. One corner that gets cut more often than not seems to be email. It’s an easy target.
Today, we have so many modes of electronic communication that favor brevity that the long-winded format of email often feels antiquated. Where a text message or IM might convey the same idea, it can feel wasteful to spend much more time composing a well-written email. I’d like to propose, though, that a little bit of care goes a long way to projecting a more professional image and, in turn, garnering more attention.
I’ll highlight a few corners that typically get cut in composing an email that are very easy to fix, provided you’re willing to learn some good habits.
One of the most egregious signs of neglect in a long email thread is an out of control subject line. This is often the first thing people see when they read (or decide to ignore) your email. Take for example:
Subject: RE: Re: RE: Fwd: [firstname.lastname@example.org: RE: Proposal]
On a long thread, the subject can often grow into a mess that makes it hard (sometimes impossible on mobile devices) to decipher the purpose of the message at a glance. Do your due diligence in corresponding by keeping the subject line clean:
And I Quote
On the topic of long threads involving many people, something that is often ignored is how you quote when you reply. It’s easy to ignore because, from your perspective, it’s easy to see where the original message ends and your reply begins.
Unfortunately, email formatting is temperamental at best and the same isn’t always true for everyone on the receiving end of your message. One way to make sure that your message is clear is to all is to be mindful of what you’ve quoted. Quoting an excessive portion of the messages in the thread can be confusing and forces people to spend more time parsing your message for its content. Trim away the portions of the conversation that are no longer relevant or are already well understood; your colleagues will thank you!
In the world of corporate email, top posting is almost completely ubiquitous. I’m referring, of course, to the practice of placing your reply above the message or messages to which you’re replying.
While this is most often easiest, it can make for a confusing response if your reply is intended to address multiple facets of the original message. Among professionals that communicate primarily in long email threads, it is considered proper etiquette to bottom post. This ensures that the display of a thread in any single message is preserved in natural chronological order, making it easy for new readers to get up to speed quickly.
If your reply directly addresses multiple different statements from the last message, you may consider replying “inline”. That is, break the original quoted message up and interleave your responses, placing them right after the statement you wish to address.
Check out this helpful video for more tips on writing better email!
I hope these tips will help you conduct better, more productive email correspondence. Thanks for reading!
Monica De Armas is a student at the University of South Florida studying accounting and finance. She hopes to become a Certified Public Accountant.