The Challenge of Professional Writing

“Good writing is clear thinking made visible.” – Bill Wheeler

I write awesome emails. Well, at least that is the feedback that I have received. Don’t get me wrong – I have been prudently coached on how to write awesome email messages. Not to let all that coaching go to waste, I have perfected the art over the last 15 years of my professional life. Now the time has come to share the wealth. Let’s make the world better – one email message at a time.  

The tips below are not applicable to every email message, of course. On the other hand, they are likely applicable to other forms of communication. This post is based on my own writing style, my real-life experiences, and my personal opinions only. You may have read something along the same lines somewhere else, or you may have read something completely opposite. I simply want to share what works for me and what I consider professionally acceptable.

Rule #1: Follow a template.

Just like every other piece of communication, an email message has to have all three major parts – an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

I. Introduction:

  1. Under any circumstances, do NOT misspell the recipient’s name. Make sure you double- AND triple-check it before hitting that send button.
  2. If you are responding to an inquiry, thank them for contacting you.
  3. If you are asking a question, offer the reason why you are reaching out specifically to them (referral, research, etc.).

II. Body:

  1. Either directly respond to the inquiry or state your case.
  2. Consider your audience. Write in a way that does not warrant the recipient to break out a dictionary to translate your message or look up any un-common abbreviations/acronyms.
  3. Be concise. If you are writing to an exec, you have two sentence tops before you lose their attention. But even rank and file – like me – tends to get aggravated with pointless fluff. Get to the point as quickly as possible. Better yet, open with your main point – that will allow the exec to decide right away, if it is worth their time.
  4. Remember that your message could be forwarded. Multiple times. Write every message like the CEO is going to be reading it.
  5. Do not write more than three relatively short sections. If you have more than that to say, pick up the phone. One exception to this rule is records retention – stuff has to be documented. However, in most of these cases, the recipient already knows the reason for a lengthy message.

III. Conclusion:

  1. Emphasize any action items that you need them to take or your own next steps; include a due date, if necessary.
  2. Let them know that it is perfectly acceptable to contact you with any questions, suggestions, or concerns.
  3. Thank the addressee for their time and attention.
  4. Do not use the same sign off that you do with your drinking buddies, such us “Cheers!”. “Regards” or “Thanks so much” sound much more professional.
  5. Have a standardized signature. It should contain your name, any letters after it that you have earned with blood, sweat, and tears, your title, and a way to find you (your company name, location, phone number, etc.). However, your employer may already have certain guidelines in place.
  6. Do not include any quotes, advertisements, or pictures (other than your company logo), no matter how work-related or otherwise professional they are.

IV. Subject Line:

Subject line requires a lot of thought. On one hand, it could tell the reader – at a glance – the reason for your message, without even having to open the message. On the other hand, it could create a mystery to pique your reader’s attention. What will make the person you are writing to more likely to open your email? Most of the time I write it after I have finished composing the entire message.

V. Common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Random capitalization. Do not capitalize words in the middle of the sentence that do not fall under the common capitalization rules.
  2. Lack of periods at the end of a sentence. Or question marks. Or other unruly punctuation. 
  3. Irrelevant information. Stay focused. Do not bring up any random stuff not related to the point of the communication.
  4. Lack of space. Visually separate your writing. It is very hard to read and follow, when the entire massage is lumped in one continuous paragraph. In fact, I write in bulleted lists most of the time.
  5. Spelling errors and typos. Proofread and edit. Always. Personally, if it isn’t super urgent, I like to save the draft, and come back to it later to wordsmith it and catch any grammatically errors. It helps me ensure that I am saying exactly what I want to say and that every word conveys precisely the meaning that I want it to convey. There are several online dictionaries to help you make sure that you are saying exactly what you mean.
  6. Lack of response. Enough said.
  7. Inadequate response time. Be mindful of timing. The unwritten rule for email responses is 24 hour. However, personally, I do not always follow that rule. It is more important for me to be on point and to provide the person with the right information, than to follow a social media rule. On the other hand, if it will take more than a couple of days, I let the person know when I anticipate having the information they are looking for.

CALL TO ACTION:

Language is a powerful tool. Your communication skills are an integral part of your executive presence. Make sure that your writing aligns with the way you want to be perceived by the world.

Do you have any professional writing tips for me?

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