[Greatest Hits 2010: Each day this week, I will be reposting a popular post from the past. This was first published April 8, 2010. See original post and comments here.]
You know what I'm talking about. You've seen it. I've seen it. I've done it. You've done it ('fess up). It's the super-casual, abbreviation-laden, exclamation-heavy email, often punctuated with an emoticon of sorts sent to a colleague at work.
It's one thing to shoot a quick note to your bff or even to your best-work-friend about non-work-related subjects (lunch on Tuesday ok? :))*. But when you're dealing with work projects or issues, simple and professional is key. Email is a tricky medium to begin with--a single punctuation or word can change the tone of an entire correspondence--so here are a few tips:
- Word choice: Since this depends a lot on the subject of your email, it's hard to go into real specifics here. So we'll just stick with be clear and be careful. For example, if you have a qualm about the way a project is or will be handled, calling it an "issue" right off the bat will automatically position you against them--which might stand in the way of productive problem-solving.
- Punctuation: I'm a bit grammar-crazy (I wrote the style guide for the organization I work for and copyediting is part of my job), so I may be a bit biased. But a few general tips: you only need one sentence-closer, unlike the title of this post (unless you are using two dashes to form an em dash), watch your commas and semicolons, and exclamatory statements are best kept to a minimum.
- Capitalization: First letters in sentences. Names. Proper names. Magazine/book/show/movie titles. Not to capitalize: basically everything else. Refer to your company style guide if you have one (note: style guide is not capitalized because I'm talking about style guides in general). (Almost) nothing irks me more than misused capitalization.
- Tone: Professional doesn't necessarily mean uptight and rigid (enter silly ha-ha work-appropriate joke here), and if you know your recipient (or all of your recipients) have similar humor then go ahead a infuse slight sarcasm. The real stuff is best saved for in-person jokes, where they can hear your voice tone and see your expression. Email is not a good conduit for either of those.
- Structure: Organizing the contents of your email is the main key to getting your point across--a well-organized email goes a long way. Your email should start with a brief introduction to what you want to talk about and any pertinent background information, and end with a conclusion and next steps. For even a short email, split your topics into different paragraphs, with a topic sentence in each. Bullets are your friend.
- Closing: This is one I've struggled with often. I sign my personal emails to my best friends "xoxo," and most of my business emails with a variation of "Thanks." But what if that doesn't flow with the content? I often see and in the past have used "Best," but on second thought it felt awkward. Best what? I'm the best? You're the best? Turns out it is short for "Best regards," which I feel is preferable to best (better than best, if you'd like). If the context calls for it, a "See you soon" or "Hope you join us" could work as well. Some other options: "Warm regards," "Regards," "Cordially," "Take care," and the classic "Sincerely."
The New Professional may not know all the answers, but your email doesn't have to give you away.
What are your top email tips? Share them in the comments!
Photo source: Flickr user esparta
*The emoticon - parenthesis presents an interesting conundrum in text-only emails that leave it sideways. Do I close the parenthetical, making my happy face look like it has a double chin? Or do I scoff in the face of grammar and let the smile act as a closer? I don't have a good answer to that yet, but will let you know if I ever come up with one.