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COMMUNICATION · December 14th, 2020

5 Ways to Write Better Emails for Busy People

by Adrian Palacios

SENIOR MANAGER, INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS

Did you know that some hospital managers can receive over 100 emails a day from colleagues and clients? And that doesn’t include the multiple requests received from the Support Center. In fact, HMs may often scroll through their phone between meetings, on breaks, or over lunch just to keep up with messages.

And they aren’t alone. Managing DVMs, field leaders, and other executives who are notoriously busy get loads of email. Deciphering the request buried in each one can be a time-consuming task that leads to delayed responses or missed deadlines.

If you frequently send emails to busy people (and we all do), consider how you can improve the content of your communication.  Here are five ways you can write clearer, more concise emails that help cut through the clutter.

1. Know why you’re writing.

Who is your audience? Why are you sending them an email? Are you providing information that the recipient needs (such as explaining a new program)? Do you want them to respond so you can move forward with a project?

If you consider your purpose before you begin writing, it will help guide what you say and how you say it.

2. Make your subject line short and specific.

How many times have you gotten an email with a vague subject line like “A question” or “FYI” or “hello there”? Your subject line could make the difference between someone opening your email now or later — or ever.

If you need to convey something time-sensitive, try a subject line like “Urgent: Servers offline from midnight to 4 a.m.” If you’d like the recipient to review something, “For approval: XYZ Report” makes it obvious.

Summarizing your request in the subject line improves the timeliness of the response.

Remember: People read emails on various devices, so a subject line could get cut off. Shoot for no more than nine words or 60 characters.

3. Keep your message brief and to the point.

The more someone has to scroll or swipe, the more likely they are to skim your message and miss important details.

You should state the reason for your email in the first sentence of your message. Is there a call to action (something you’d like the recipient to do when he or she receives your message)? Highlight it in bold or yellow, and include dates and deadlines.

If your message involves more than a handful of short paragraphs, you may want to rethink what to include in the body of the email.

For example, are you introducing the details of a new program or sending something for review? That information should be in a separate document. This keeps the email shorter (and allows the recipient to save that attachment for future reference).

Your email should be short enough for someone to read on a phone without having to scroll down multiple times.

4. Make it easy to read – and avoid jargon.

We all have that one friend who writes in all-lowercase letters (“hi, linda! how are you?”) or adds multiple exclamation points (“Let’s welcome our new team member, Stacey!!!!!”). Those can be visually distracting.

So can a lime-green font or tons of emojis, or using all-caps (which gives the impression that THE WRITER IS YELLING). It’s also best to stick with standard typefaces to avoid getting the meme treatment like Comic Sans.

And though you should strive for a professional tone, your message should also be friendly and not stilted (“Heretofore and hereafter, we welcome Party A and Party B to our employ”).

Avoid jargon, “bizspeak”, and acronyms (“ICYMI, please get the BOD the TPS report ASAP”) — especially if you’re emailing someone outside your department or at a hospital or pet resort. If you have the slightest concern that someone might not recognize a term, define it first, or better yet, don’t use it.

5. Take a beat before hitting Send.

Once you’ve written your email, view it through the recipient’s eyes. Reading the message aloud can also help catch any typos or unclear passages.

Ask yourself some questions — especially if you’re writing about a sensitive topic.

  • Can you cut anything?
  • Does everybody copied on your email know why they’re included?
  • Would your message be better received over the phone or on a Zoom call? (Emails don’t allow people to see your expressions or hear your voice, so the tone can be unclear.)
  • Should you save the message as a draft and review it later, instead of sending it now?

A hastily written email could mean that someone like Dr. Taylor skips over your message and doesn’t read (or reply) until later that day or week. So spending a bit of time upfront can mean the difference between an effective message and one that sits unopened in an inbox.

 

If you’re looking for more secrets to writing emails that will connect with recipients, check out the Harvard Business Review’s article about crafting a work email.

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Here’s a quick checklist you can refer to before sending your email.

    • Clear goal and/or call to action
    • Crisp subject line (9 words or 60 characters at most)
    • Key information upfront, minimal scrolling required
    • Easy-to-read text, friendly and professional tone
    • Free of typos, ready to send

 

Adrian Palacios

SENIOR MANAGER, INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS

Support Center | Agoura Hills, CA

Adrian serves the NVA community by managing internal communications. Feel free to contact him about the information, business initiatives, stories, and successes our community doesn’t know about yet, but should. He lives in Los Angeles with Finley, a Blue Nose Pitbull, and Madison, a black-nosed-dairy-cow-patterned-bully-breed mix.

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