Success with email

This month in The Writing Circle, we’ve been talking about email – about our email successes and failures, and about our likes and dislikes.

One theme that came through very strongly is the speed with which emails are read and acted upon, and the problems this can create for both writers and readers.

We talked about the way that readers often don’t read an entire email message. Instead, they read the first paragraph or two, jump to some conclusion about what they’re meant to do, act upon that, and delete the message. For writers, the warning here is that if you include multiple points in an email, it’s possible that only the first point or two will be noticed. It also means that you need to put the real point of your message (the call to action) right at the top.

We also talked about the way that an email conversation can become long and unnecessarily complicated when the most simple decisions are being made. For example, I recently tried to arrange via email a meeting with a work colleague who was visiting Brisbane. After 6 messages and no conclusion, I picked up the phone. Sometimes, it just makes more sense to talk on the phone – particularly for something that involves negotiating a diary.

Writing Circle members wondered whether there were any emerging conventions for salutations in email. They tended to prefer to start work emails with salutations such as ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’, and to sign off with something like ‘Cheers’. In more formal situations, they might use ‘Dear’ and ‘Regards’. They tended to dislike messages that include no salutation at all (unless the message is part of an ongoing conversation).

So the conclusion about email? Based on our discussions in The Writing Circle, and a bit of reading about the topic, I suggest that emails are best written as a conversational letter (carefully written and following the rules of good writing, but tending towards informality). It makes sense to give email as much care and attention as other forms of communication.