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Simple rules how to write effective emails

That’s why I decided to share the key findings from this book with my comments.


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Volodymyr Hrunskyi

3 years ago | 6 min read

I remember the period in my professional life when it didn’t matter how to write emails correctly. At that time, I lived in Ukraine’s regional center and worked in a law firm with 20 people, where all lawyers had one shared email address.

The I situation has not changed much even after moving to the capital of Ukraine and working in another bigger law company. However, I received a personal email address.

Nevertheless, since most issues were resolving through phone calls, emailing did not take much time. Therefore, I was amazed at other people’s stories about how long it took them to process incoming correspondence.

After I started working in a big international consulting company, I fully understood the pain of these people.

The significant increase in the volume of correspondence forced me to immerse myself in the correctness of business correspondence. I even managed to compile a massive list of standard phrases for all occasions, which I actively used. Over time, I realized that this was one of the common mistakes.

There is a lot of information on the internet on how to process emails correctly and quickly so that it does not take much time and, at the same time, does not show you as a person who makes only formal replies.

The last book I read is called “New Rules of Business Correspondence” by Maxim Ilyakhov and Lyudmila Sarycheva (unfortunately, the book is only in Russian).

I liked their approach to business correspondence. That’s why I decided to share the key findings from this book with my comments.

1. Tips for writing a professional email subject line:

  • It must contain subject information. I’m sure this is an obvious rule, but sending emails without a subject remains quite common. At the same time, it is challenging to find letters with a blank subject and understand the content at once without having to open the letter itself.
  • It should be informative. The recipient must understand what the letter is about. Even better, if the letter’s subject shows whether the sender requires any actions from the recipient.
  • Tags. In some companies, it is customary to put tags at the beginning of the subject line (for example, if it is about the drafting of documents, then “Draft,” “For proofreading,” “Final,” etc.). As for me, this is not always convenient, as the status of documents may change, and discussion may take place in an email thread about the old editions of the document. In terms of tags, I made a rule only to mark internal correspondence with the label “Internal” to mitigate the risk of inadvertently sending the mail outside the company or directly to the client.
  • Indication of urgency. If the question posed in the letter needs to be answered within a specific time, it is better to indicate this in the letter’s subject. Such an indication should be clear and not allow different interpretations (for instance, dates in the USA are not always recorded in the same order as in Europe, so it is better to write the month in letters).

2. The body of the letter:

  • It is crucial not to make mistakes in the recipient’s name. The latter may perceive such error as a sign of inattention and disrespect. Therefore, it is better to check twice.
  • Each letter is a separate question or topic. If you need to discuss several unrelated issues, you should send them in different letters. The topic must be clearly stated to understand what the letter is about and what the sender expects from him. In that case, it will be easier for him to process such a letter. Moreover, it reduces the risk that some of the letter’s issues will be inadvertently ignored.
  • Write a letter in such a way that it is easy for the recipient to respond. It is terrible to dump a stream of unstructured thoughts in the letter and expect the recipient to understand them. A good structure of the letter, which relates to one topic, and attaching to it all the necessary information, will allow the recipient to process it quickly and not waste time on unnecessary things. If you attach voluminous documents to the letter, it is necessary to state substantial extracts from them (key ideas, facts, figures, etc.) in the letter’s body. If it is possible to help the recipient in addition (for example, to prepare a draft document, etc.), it is also worth doing. The main idea is that the more work we do for the recipient, the easier and faster it will be for him to respond, and therefore, more pleasant to work with us.
  • Formatting. It is very inconvenient to read letters in which all the information is set out in one paragraph. Proper structuring of the data, for example, one issue — one section, will help with its perception.
  • Links to external sources. It is essential to explain to the addressee what the link is about. If the link is enormous — it’s good to use link reduction services such as bitly.com, tinyurl.com, bl.ink, etc.

3. General rules of correspondence

  • Do not manipulate. There is no need to speculate that a person is a professional in his field, and therefore, solving the problem will not take him much time. Also, no need to thank this person in advance. No one wants to feel obligated to do something just because you thanked him.
  • Do not rush. Nobody likes the words “urgent,” “you have 10 minutes,” and all that. It shows disrespect for the person, his time, and what he is doing at the moment. If you send a letter to check the task’s status, you can do this as a polite reminder with an offer of help.
  • Do not use standard phrases in correspondence. Using clichés is one of the most common mistakes, including mine. Such expressions indicate a formal approach to writing a letter, without trying to put in something your own.
  • Do not write illiterately and with abbreviations. Here everything is obvious. Even if you send a letter to a subordinate, the latter can perceive the message as disrespectful. Besides, your colleague will need to spend extra time trying to figure out what you meant.
  • Do not involve a third party in the correspondence without first discussing it with him. It often happens that after communicating with a client, you need to introduce a new person in the correspondence, for example, a colleague who specializes in particular issues. Before entering such a person into the correspondence, it is necessary to (1) introduce him to the case, (2) clarify his ability to resolve such an issue. Only then can you introduce this person to the correspondents, indicating the problems they can help.
  • Avoid strained politeness. This is a characteristic feature of all business correspondence. At the same time, we all understand entirely when open disrespect or dissatisfaction is hidden behind a polite tone. Therefore, use an honest and straightforward communication style. If you are dissatisfied with something, write about it directly in a respectful manner.
  • Do not reply because of negative emotions. It is better to take a break, calm down, and call this person back, rather than write. In my practice, there have been cases where I, being in a bad mood, have responded to my colleagues. Despite the reasons for my dissatisfaction, the next day I was ashamed of my words.
  • Evaluate the work, not the person. You don’t need to evaluate a person until they ask you. In other cases, evaluate only your impressions of such a person’s work, not this person.
  • Re-read the letter before sending it. You may find this as an obvious rule, but often people neglect it. At the same time, text checked for structure and errors will show respect for the recipient and allow you to convey your opinion without further clarification.

The book’s main idea, with which I agree, is respect and care for the addressees. A friendly and calm tone and your openness will serve to build long-term relationships with them.

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