What are your checklist for writing effective and diplomatic emails?

There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.” ~ Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)

Recently, due to the nature of my responsibility, I have to spend more time and energy on writing emails. I have to help solve others’ problems. It is better to have a checklist that I can refer when I have limited time and my energy level is running low.

  1. Be professional in our email communication: use proper grammar and avoid misspell. It’s best to err on the side of friendliness and professionalism.
  2. Assume the highest level of courtesy. Always say “please” and “thank you“.
  3. Email titles must be noticeable, related and unique if possible.
  4. Avoid using unequivocally negative words (“failure”, “wrong”, or “neglected”)
  5. Never send e-mails when we are emotional. Regardless of how we attempt to mask it, people will feel it [1]. It is important not to say something that we regret, e.g. things that would be ruinous to me or hurtful to others.
  6. Never be offensive.
  7. Avoid using e-mail to provide “constructive criticism” or to discuss more serious matters. Face-to-face, or at a minimum verbally over the phone, is better. Remember the valuable lesson that Abraham Lincoln learned: words impact the receiver in ways that the sender cannot completely fathom.
  8. Avoid saying anything in e-mail that you would not want to see in print or heard spoken as a quote from you [2].
  9. Assume that others will see what we write. Every electronic message leaves a trail. Remember that others can forward our email, deliberately or accidentally, with or without permission.
  10. Never write something you wouldn’t want others to see. It is very easy for our primary recipients to forward an email to unintended recipients.
  11. It is better to avoid short-hand, texting language (abbreviations), emoticons, because they may be perceived as being unprofessional and not everyone is familiar wit them. However, depending on the relationship with and personality of the person I am writing emails to, I do include a smiling face to show encouragement and support, because a research led by Daantje Derks at the Open University of the Netherlands concluded that “to a large extent, emoticons serve the same functions as actual nonverbal behavior.
  12. Respect cultures. For example, being straight to the point (German, American, Scandinavian) versus more personal in the writings (Japanese, Arab, Chinese).
  13. Emails should be short and succinct, no more than two or three paragraphs, should have a specific purpose (it’s either giving information, requesting information or attempting to prompt further communication), and it should have enough detail to allow the person to respond effectively without asking for more information.
  14. Refrain from using any formatting in business emails. Note that formatting increases the chance that our email could be blocked as spammy.
  15. Always make a note of any attachments in the e-mail. Those attachments can easily be overlooked by our recipient.
  16. Proof our message before clicking the send button.
  17. Always double check that you’re sending the e-mail to your intended recipient(s).
  18. Add the email address last because we don’t want to send an email accidentally before we have finished writing and proofing the message. I learned this lesson requesting batteries on 20151005 because I accidentally send the email without completing it, but I had included the recipients’ emails.
  19. Understand how to use To, Cc, BCc and their context in terms of privacy.
  20. Use Reply to All with discretion. Think carefully if “all” really need to be aware of our reply.
  21. Always review our emails before clicking the send button.
  22. Timing matters too. It’s bad boss etiquette to harass your employees with notes after hours or on the weekend.
  23. To discuss issues among several people, it is better to call a meeting instead of doing it via emails.
  24. Significant, lengthy, and heated email exchanges are almost always better taken offline and finished in person.
  25. Our signature should not be too long but contain name, company name, website link. Long signature may be viewed as egocentric.

[1] grep “20161214 lesson from an email I sent today due to a subtle frustration” ref2016*/*txt

[2] I felt betrayed by my team member for an email that I wrote on 20150611 (a waste of my precious resources: time, energy, etc). Before I sent the email, I asked their opinions and they did not mention that they have the opposite idea to what I proposed. A better thing to do next time is to ask each team member individually on their thought, instead of asking all at once. After all, they are merely caring for themselves and their job security, we cannot blame people for doing it.



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