E-mail is a double-edged sword. Done well, it’s a powerful business tool. Done poorly, it causes serious problems for individuals and organizations alike.
“E-mail has not only changed the way we do business, it’s begun to define how we’re viewed as professionals and people,” says Janis Fisher Chan, author of “E-Mail: A Write It Well Guide -- How to Write and Manage E-Mail in the Workplace” (Write It Well, 2005, $21.99). “The words we write are very real representations of our companies and ourselves. We must be sure our e-mail messages are sending the right messages about us.”
In her book, Chan offers practical strategies for making the most of your e-mail time and making sure the e-mail you write gets the results you want. Here are two of her tips:
Use the journalistic triangle to get to the point fast. Have you ever noticed that the first paragraph of a newspaper article contains the most important information? The rest of the article provides details that support, explain, expand on and illustrate that information. Here’s an easy way to figure out what your main point is in an e-mail you’re writing: Imagine your reader is about to go through airport security on her way to an important meeting. You have 15 seconds to shout out your message before she disappears into the crowd. What would you say?
¥ Make your subject line a headline. A well-written subject line is like the headline for a newspaper article: It draws the reader’s attention and tells him what the e-mail is about. The subject line gives the reader a reason to open the message. It’s also your first and most important opportunity to get your message across. Instead of “New Program,” write “Accepting Applications for Flex-time Program.” Instead of “Changes,” write”Health Benefits to Change Next Year.” Instead of”Dates,” write “Kickoff Meeting: April 2, 6 or 9?” Be informative and compelling.