More By This Author

Current Issue

Current Issue

Posted: November 20, 2012

Taming the email monster: Part One

Here are some best practices

Dawn Bjork Buzbee

Start improving your email effectiveness by creating and formatting easy to follow content, and by using pre‑written responses. Note: although some of the features mentioned are specific to Microsoft Outlook, most of these ideas can help you manage your email and time regardless of the email program you use.

Format Readable Email Messages

One of the keys to writing good email is to empathize with your recipients. Simplify the email messages you send with clean, easy-to-read formatting:

  • Get To The Point. Shorten paragraphs to no more than five or six lines to reduce reading.
  • Shorter Is Better. Limit email text to a single printed page. If you have more text, reduce the message or consider attaching a Word document. Delete previous responses that are no longer relevant to the current exchange.
  • Keep It Meaningful. Modify the subject line if the thread changes and is no longer related to the original message.
  • Simple Formatting. Use fonts between 10 and 12 points in size except for headlines and choose an easy to read font style. Consider bolding important information. Apply colors sparingly. In addition, with the growing use of mobile devices, always keep in mind some recipients may be seeing your message in plain text without font formatting and graphics. Add blank lines and white space to separate paragraphs and areas of detail.
  • Read Your Message Before You Send It. Run the spelling checker and re-read messages one last time for clarity and grammar before clicking Send.
  • Use High Importance Sparingly. If most every message you send out is marked as High Importance, your recipients will begin to ignore your urgency.

Create Clear Content

If you want to reduce the volume of email you need to handle, make sure you create clear messages. Consider these strategies to upgrade your communications with understandable, email messages:

  • Better Subject Lines. Help others prioritize how to act on your email by including a clear, specific subject line and repeating important subject information in the body of the message. If an action is needed, state what you want on the subject line. As a software expert, I often receive messages with a subject that just reads “question” which makes these messages hard to distinguish from unwanted spam.

    With so many people reading their messages with a handheld device, also put the most important information at the front of the subject as longer subject lines may be cutoff.
     

 

GOOD

Your invitation to the upcoming CBA Awards Luncheon on March 12th

BETTER

CBA Awards Luncheon; please RSVP to March 12th event by February 28th

 

  • Now What? Define your expectations in the body of the message. Do you want your recipients to act, respond, read, or is the email FYI only?
  • One Topic. Include only one topic per message. If this isn’t possible, then describe and number multiple topics as in 5 items to add to the Wednesday meeting agenda. Put action items or questions on separate lines so they stand out and get noticed.
  • Watch for Automation. When you type the addresses for your message, check who is getting your email. Using the AutoComplete feature, Outlook will attempt to auto-fill an email address which may not be your intended recipient.
  • Who is Your Audience? Be careful with your tone and language. As with any other communication, match the message to your audience. Unless the reader understands your dry sense of humor, for instance, they may be confused or offended rather than amused. Clearly identify yourself to strangers within your message and in the message signature.
  • BTW (By The Way). It may be tempting to use acronyms in the world of texting and IM (instant messaging), but only use extremely common abbreviations, such as FYI or ASAP, unless you are absolutely certain the individual receiving your email knows what they mean.

Save Time with Pre-written Responses

If you send a few basic messages over and over again, such as a reply to a request for product information, consider saving those responses as signatures that can be inserted into email so you don’t have to retype them. For a majority of messages, create a default signature with your full name, position or title, phone, website, and other contact information. Depending on your business and use of Outlook, you may also want to include links or addresses for social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Applying these best practices will help you create better email messages.

In Part 2 of this two-part series, discover ways to avoid unnecessarily contributing to other people’s overflowing Inbox.

Dawn Bjork Buzbee is The Software Pro® and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as well as a certified Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Instructor, certified Microsoft Applications Specialist (MCAS) Instructor, and a certified Microsoft Office expert. Dawn shares smart and easy ways to effectively use software through her work as a speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of 6 books. Discover more software tips, tricks, tactics, and techniques at www.SoftwarePro.com . Contact Dawn at Dawn@SoftwarePro.com  or (303) 699-6868.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Thanks to Sandy Dunlap, COO of Nurse-Family Partnership for these additional e-mail tips: "1. Type xxx in the “Cc:” line. If you accidently hit send prematurely, Outlook will balk (I don’t know whether other email applications will) and thus prevent your sending an incomplete message. 2. Use autotext. For example, I frequently need to send a FedEx package. I typed out the message years ago, selected it all, and defined an autotext entry called “fedex.” When I type “fedex” and hit F3, the entire message fills in and I can make the few edits needed for the particular situation. This approach is much quicker than having a bunch of separate signatures." FYI: Here are the steps to create AutoText entries in Microsoft Outlook: http://www.softwarepro.com/docs/MicrosoftOutlook-AutoText.pdf By Dawn Bjork Buzbee on 2012 12 07
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

ColoradoBiz TV

Loading the player ...

Featured Video