Like it or not, email has become a primary means of communication in the workplace. In fact, it's estimated that the typical employee spends one-third of his or her working hours dealing with email. And that's why it's important to compose and reply to those messages in as professional a manner as possible. Here are some tips to help make you a better emailer -- and help your career in the process.
1. Choose your subject lines wisely
Some people don't put much thought into their email subject lines, while others fire off messages regularly without including subject lines at all. But constructing the right subject line could spell the difference between having your message read promptly or having it ignored.
First, get to the point. Your subject line shouldn't be two sentences long; rather, it should aim to convey the substance of your message in a few words or less. For example, "Project Keystone" is a much more efficient subject line than "Need to discuss Project Keystone with you at some point this week."
Furthermore, if your message is urgent, say so -- but only if it's truly important. Otherwise, folks who read it might get annoyed and neglect to respond promptly.
2. Take the time to proofread
You're not necessarily expected to put the same amount of effort into run-of-the-mill email as you would a high-profile report or presentation. That said, you should never assume that a message's direct recipient is the only person who will ever see that note. You never know when someone might choose to forward one of your email messages to a higher-up, so the more professional you sound, the better.
To this end, take a minute after composing each message to give it a read. If you can do so out loud, even better -- you'll be even more likely to catch mistakes. Furthermore, always run your email through a spell-check program. It's an easy way to eliminate glaring errors that could make you look less intelligent than you really are.
3. Don't send partial replies
It's not always easy to take time out of your day to answer email. So if you're up against deadlines and have a string of messages coming in, ignore them until you're really able to address them. Sending back a brief one-liner in response to a message requiring a more in-depth answer won't save you any time; if anything, it'll waste your time by interrupting what you're doing to compose that quick reply.
That said, there are exceptions to this rule. If your boss or a company higher-up emails you and you know it'll take some time to respond, you can shoot back a courtesy "I'm rushing against a deadline now, but please expect a thorough response tomorrow." Similarly, if you have a colleague who's likely to march over to your desk demanding an answer if you don't fashion a reply right away, you can employ the same technique. Otherwise, wait until you have a window of time to answer your email, and answer each message fully.
4. Remember that email doesn't convey tone
One tricky thing that workers tend to overlook is that unlike in-person or phone conversations, email doesn't convey tone. Therefore, when you respond matter-of-factly, it can sometimes come off as overly blunt, even if that's not your intention.
Imagine you're asked to do something over email that falls way outside your scope of responsibility. You might reply with, "Sorry, that's not something I do," and think that's fine. But from the recipient's standpoint, it might come off as rude. Therefore, it often pays to err on the side of politeness when responding to email. In our example, something like "I'm sorry, but I've never dabbled in that before, and don't know that my manager would approve your request" sounds less harsh.
The more polished you sound via email, the better it'll serve your career. Follow these tips, and with any luck, you'll come to be known as a solid communicator at the office.