A lot of us write a lot more than we used to. If you work in a office, or even from home, there’s a good chance that your job requires you to send at least a few emails a day. I sent 34 work emails on Wednesday, for example (I also sent a lot on Thursday and Friday, but as the school I work in was closed because of the severe weather, I won’t count those). And this is still a relatively quiet period. Even if a lot of us are used to sending emails though, there’s something of an art to writing one.
Structuring an email is important. First of all, simply to give the reader a chance to breathe, and not be faced with an imposing wall of text. But also if you’ve got separate ideas in the email, it’s helpful to separate them into paragraphs.
What about your writing style? I suppose in most cases, it’s not so important: the main thing is to convey whatever information you need to convey. Though sometimes if an email is too carelessly written, it’s difficult to understand exactly what the person is saying, or at least it’s not an easy, pleasant read.
Personally, I probably spend too much time on a lot of my emails. Even though I know it’s not really necessary, I do like to write them fairly well (when I write one of these posts about once a day, is that a surprise?). I don’t pore over every word, trying to think of le mot juste. But I do write them like I write my posts: fairly quickly and unconsciously, but with a little time to review afterwards to make sure everything flows well.
I probably have too much of an eye for detail though, and I’m sure some of my colleagues sigh when they receive a thorough, (interesting), but long email from me. But I think that detail and writtenness can be important sometimes. For example, my colleagues in the Sales department might want some information for an agent, and in that case I certainly think it’s useful if I give them something that sounds good and has as much detail as could be useful. And I’m sure they’re used to picking out the two or three sentences that actually matter from my emails.
I’m also fascinated by how differently people treat email though. As a xennial who first started using it in college, and quickly got used to it as a regular part of life, I’m quite comfortable using it. Others though, started using it after many years of not engaging in a lot of written communication, and find it harder to adjust to the etiquette of email. They might write short, seemingly abrupt messages without much thought for punctuation or flow, often replicating spoken English.
Funnily enough, this is often an area in which both younger and older generations are similar. People in their twenties are generally quite used to a lot of casual written communication from texting and other types of instant messaging, and carry over the informality of those media to email. Which to some can be refreshing, but to others it can seem unprofessional. Apart from style and structure, there are two other elements that stand out in how someone uses an email: the salutation (the greeting at the beginning), and the sign off (at the end).
Simply lacking either of these can of course be a no-no in some people’s eyes. Even if you include both though, you might have to think carefully about what words you use. For the salutation, you usually have to consider whether to use Dear, Hi, or Hello. Dear is usually a safe bet with someone you don’t know, but Hi is becoming increasingly common as a standard form. And I think that’s OK, as it’s not like Hi is too informal: we often use it on the phone after all, so why not in an email? If you’re in doubt about what to use though, look at what the other person uses (if they initiated contact), and just use the same.
And you generally don’t need to worry about using Mr., Mrs. or other titles: first names are usually OK. Though not necessarily if you’re working internationally. In Belgium for example, I found that French speakers tend to avoid using first names in business contexts, especially with people they don’t personally know very well, so it’s always best to be aware of the stylistic and cultural norms of the languages of others.
The sign off is probably what most people agonise over. Do you write Kind regards, or Best regards, or just Regards, or something else entirely?
There’s no right answer, and it all depends on the tone you want to strike. Personally, I have two that I usually use. With colleagues, I usually use Thanks. It’s short, simple, and positive, and even if it doesn’t always make logical sense (I think they should usually be thanking me), it doesn’t need to be complicated. When it’s someone I might email a few times a day, and might have been chatting to in the kitchen ten minutes earlier, it’s not worth giving much thought to, and I certainly don’t need to worry about it being formal enough. And of course if we’re having a back-and-forth of a few emails, we’ll probably drop the salutations and sign offs entirely pretty quickly.
If it’s someone I don’t know well, from outside the company, I’ll usually go with Kind regards. It’s fairly formal, but still friendly. I don’t like Regards because it seems too cold, and Warmest regards seems too insincere (though Warm regards isn’t so bad). Of course we’re not always going to be entirely sincere when we use Kind regards, but Warmest regards just seems like too much.
Of course, you need to go with what you feel most comfortable with, but it’s always worth considering the effect your emails will have on the reader.
And never use revert back to me!