Since we are all writers and / or work in the publishing industry and word smithing is how we earn our keep, I thought it might make sense to discuss how to communicate more efficiently in email messages, given that we are all swamped (and often checking messages on the fly on a mobile device about half the size of my palm). Here are some of my top Do’s and Don’ts.
- Use a descriptive, specific and accurate subject line. Also, amend / clarify your subject line if the topic of the message changes. When busy people scan subject lines on the hundreds of messages that arrive daily in their inboxes, guess which messages get opened first?
- Make sure your response (and electronic signature) appear at the top — not the bottom — of a message chain. Remember that many people are accessing email on Blackberries and other mobile devices and can only see the first few lines of an email without scrolling.
- Make sure your contact information appears in all messages (new ones as well as replies and forwards) as well as on messages sent from webmail accounts or mobile devices so recipients have your contact information at their finger tips at all times. Many people have been creating increasingly complex signatures, some of which take up a lot of space. If you have a long electronic signature, consider using it for new messages only, and then create a second signature with just your email address and phone number for replies, forwards and mobile devices.
- Include your email address in your esignature. You may think it is redundant since the address appears on your email message. However, depending on if / how the message is forwarded, the email address does not appear.
- Consider creating a discussion group, like Google Groups or Yahoo Groups, if you know you will have a lengthy and ongoing exchange between a number of people. This way, all responses to a particular topic easily stored in one place (and referred back to in the future). You can also set preferences so that you receive a notification email every time someone posts in the group, once a day, once a week or once a certain number of posts have accumulated. Ideally, you want to participate with a Gmail or Yahoo email account, but you can do so from any email account.
- This one is not new, but it continues to be a problem. Do not, not, NOT Reply All when it is not necessary. If you need to respond to more than one person on the distribution list, please show some consideration for busy colleagues and take 30 seconds to remove the people who do not need to receive your response.
- Also not new: do not send unsolicited, large, i.e., 500 KB+ attachments. Most email providers limit the size of the user’s mailbox. Once the limit has been reached, the user can no longer send email messages (although received messages usually are stored. Somewhere). If you need to send a large message, consider uploading it to a document-sharing site like Google Docs or a file-sharing site like You Send It. That way, the recipient can simply click on a link to download the document directly to their hard drive. (Of course, if someone has just asked you to send a JPEG of an author photo or cover, it’s a good bet they’re ready to receive and deal with a massive file landing in their inbox.)
- Do not set a rule requesting a notification when the recipient opens or deletes your message. If you don’t get a bounce back, assume the message has been received. If you don’t get a response, assume the recipient is really swamped. If it’s really important that you do get a response, send a follow-up message with a subject line that indicates the urgency of the message or give the person a call. Being asked to notify someone when I read their message is a bit like telling my manager every time I go to the bathroom — some things just don’t need to be shared.
What are your top email tips / pet peeves? Please feel free to weigh in with your own in the Comments section.