Email is its own unique genre of writing. It’s not a letter, not a memo, not a text message, but rather it has its own rhetorical considerations for audience, purpose, tone, and presentation. If you’re brand new to using email regularly, you may find it helpful to explore tutorials on the operation of these tools. For instance, Microsoft has an Outlook webpage, Google has an extensive Gmail guide, and there are many YouTube tutorials and websites dedicated to tips and tricks.
Here are some considerations for writing emails:
Short and sweet - Remember, emails are meant to convey a message or pass along important information. They are not intended to be pages in length. There may be times where it is necessary to have a more lengthy email and in these instances, formatting through the use of paragraphs, font style (such as bold and italic), even color-coding will make it easier for the reader to follow along. If you need to author a longer text, consider doing so in another written format such as a memo and attach it to a brief email; or identify another medium to share the message such as a video message or synchronous meeting.
Be prompt - Be aware of your organizational expectations for responding to email in a timely manner. I have worked at organizations where the expectation was to respond to emails in a four hour time period and others where 48 hours was sufficient. If you’re unsure of your organizational expectation, aim for a 24 hour (or under) response time. If a topic requires additional time, email the sender back to let them know you are working on their request and offer an alternative day and time they can expect to hear back from you.
Clearly Identify What is Needed - When sending a group email, bold or highlight the names of specific people you need responses from and let them know exactly what you need and when it is needed by. If someone on the email does not need that information, consider removing them.
Have you heard the expression “3 emails is a phone call?” Consider if there are alternative ways to clarify a point or hold a discussion than sending emails back and forth--especially among a group. Once an email is sent, you can expect at least one email to come back as the recipient replies back to the email you sent. Take a look at your sent folder to gauge your activity. If you are sending 20-30 emails a day, expect to receive that many or more in return. Emails are not the only way to communicate! Some ways you can communicate in lieu of an email include:
Picking up the phone and making a quick phone call or text.
Scheduling a synchronous meeting (such as Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, or Adobe Connect) with the individuals to discuss the topic. This will also help prevent miscommunication that can happen when multiple emails are flying back and forth between multiple parties and new recipients are added to email threads.
If an email thread is occurring between a group of people, be aware of using Reply or Reply All. Use Reply All sparingly and double check that all are actually needed on the reply before sending. Utilize the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) line if you just need someone to be aware of an item, but not engage in the conversation.
Some Do's and Don'ts of Reply All:
Do: Use reply all when you need to communicate something important to a group. Failing to reply all on a thread when you are sharing important information will cause confusion if you don't share it with everyone who was originally included or added to the chain.
Don't: Add people who don't need to be on the email in the first place. Only add the necessary recipients.
Do: Reply all if you want to give a special thank you to someone for a job well done.
Don't: Reply all to simply say thank you to one person and do not reply all to emails if the email was sent originally as part of a distribution list (have you ever been included in those "please stop replying all!" emails?).
I hope these tips help you to better understand some basics of email communications. There is much more to come in later blogs such as using email signatures, out of office replies, and calendaring/ scheduling meetings! We welcome feedback and suggestions of topics to cover related to virtual work. Please email your ideas and feedback to CAVO@ncu.edu.
Dr. Abigail Scheg
Associate Dean of Faculty
NCU School of Business