A Beginner's Guide to Effective Email by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood
(1) I believe strongly in the value of email in both business and personal life. Email is cheaper and faster than a letter. It doesn't interrupt your day like a phone call. It's less hassle than using a fax machine. And it makes differences in location and time zone less important.
(2) Because of these advantages, email use is exploding. Overall, 82% of all American adults ages 18 and older say they use the internet or email at least occasionally, and 67% do so on a typical day (Pew, 2012).
(3) Sadly, in the twenty-plus years that I have been using email, I have seen a large number of people have problems because they did not understand how to adjust their communication styles to writing emails. I wrote this document to try to help people avoid those mistakes.
(4) This is not a document on the mechanics of sending email - which buttons to push or how to attach a photograph. I instead focus on the content of an email message: how to say what you need to say. I don't think of this as email etiquette (commonly called netiquette) because I don't think these guidelines merely show you how to be a nice person. These guidelines show you how to be more efficient, clear, and effective.
(5) This is not dogma. There will be people who disagree with me on specific points. But, if there was only one right answer, there wouldn't be a need to write this guide. Hopefully, this guide will make you examine your assumptions about email and thus help you write better emails.
WHAT MAKES EMAIL DIFFERENT?
(6) Electronic communication, because of its speed, is very different from paper based communication. Because the turnaround time can be so fast, email is more conversational than traditional letters.
(7) In a paper document, it is absolutely essential to make everything completely clear and unambiguous because your audience will not have the chance to ask a question. With email, your recipient can ask you to make things clearer immediately. Like speech, email tends to be a bit "sloppier" than communications on paper.
(8) This is not always bad. It makes little sense to slave over a message for hours, making sure that your spelling is faultless, your words eloquent, and your grammar perfect, if the point of the message is to tell your co-worker that you are ready to go to lunch.
(9) However, your correspondent also won't be able to see you face-to-face, and may make assumptions based on your name, address, and - above all - your ability to use words correctly. So you need to be aware of when you can be sloppy and when you have to be more careful.
(10) Email also does not convey emotions nearly as well as face-to-face or even telephone conversations. Your correspondent may have difficulty telling if you are serious or kidding, happy or sad, frustrated or happy. It's especially hard to use sarcasm effectively in email.
(11) Another difference between email and older media is that what the sender sees when composing a message might not look like what the reader sees. Your vocal cords make sound waves that are perceived basically the same by both your ears as your audience's. The paper that you write your love note on is the same paper that the object of your affection sees. But with email, the software and hardware that you use may be completely different from what your correspondent uses. How your message looks to you may be quite different from how it looks on someone else's screen.
(12) Thus your email compositions should be different from both your paper compositions and your speech.