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Best Practices for Writing Great E-mail-Part 2

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we looked at how you can start improving your e-mail effectiveness by creating and formatting easy to follow content, and by using pre‑written responses. In this section, discover ways to stop unnecessarily contributing to other people’s overflowing Inbox, and look at some of the e-mail practices to avoid when you are writing your next e-mail message. (Note: although some of the features mentioned are specific to Outlook, most of these ideas can help you manage your e-mail and time regardless of the e-mail program you use).

How to Reduce the Volume of E-mail

Some of the top ways to cut the amount of e-mail you receive are to manage the number of messages you send, reduce unnecessary follow-up replies, and determine when person-to-person communication is a better choice.

Decrease the Number of Messages You Send

Before you write your next e-mail, seek to actively reduce how much e-mail you send:

  • Read all replies on a topic before responding to the original message. Resist getting involved with e-mail threads that don’t impact your objectives.

  • Don’t send, and discourage your staff from sending, “chime-in” messages with unimportant responses such as “Thank you” and “You’re welcome.” Don’t respond to junk mail.

  • Avoid Reply to All unless all recipients need to see your response. Otherwise you are contributing to their e-mail litter.

  • Limit the number of people to whom you send a message to those who need to read it.

  • Put people who need to respond or take action on the To line.

  • Put people who need to be informed on the Cc (carbon copy) line. Although it may seem easier to send a message to everyone in a department or your organization, first ask yourself, “Who needs to know? Why?” Most people who get a carbon copy assume there is something they are supposed to do.

  • Use Bcc (blind carbon copy) to hide large distribution lists or to disguise the names of select recipients. All recipients can respond to a message but replies will not be received by anyone in the Bcc list which reduces the amount of e-mail they get. (see Best Practices for Using Bcc below)

Choose Voice Instead of E-mail

There are often times when phone, face-to-face conversations or even an instant or text message are a much better choice to e‑mail. Pick up the phone or arrange a meeting when:

  • Building rapport is critical.

  • The topic is emotionally charged.

  • There are many intertwined issues to resolve or there is a need for lengthy interactive discussions.

  • If you want an immediate response, phone or send an instant message.

Best Practices for Using Bcc

  • Plan ahead. Before you add an intended recipient's name to the Bcc box in a message, make sure that the recipient is expecting your message. That person may need to take steps to establish you as a safe sender (or a safe recipient, if your name will be in the To box of the message).

    Why is this necessary? Using Bcc is a favorite technique of spammers. Therefore, a lot of junk e-mail filters flag messages that use the Bcc box as junk. So if your intended recipient has not added your name to the Safe Senders List in Microsoft Outlook, your message may go straight to the Junk E‑mail folder.

  • Reduce spam. Although people who send junk e-mail or spam may like to use Bcc, they won't like it if you use it. If you hide the recipients' names by listing them in the Bcc box, no one will be able to copy the recipients' e-mail addresses from your messages.

  • Know your limits. Many e-mail service providers set limits for the number of names that can be included in the To, Cc, and Bcc boxes in a message. For example, your e-mail service provider may limit each message to a maximum of 100 e-mail addresses. If these addresses are distributed among the To, Cc, and Bcc boxes, remember that the names in the Bcc box will count toward your total limit. Ask your e-mail service provider or e-mail administrator about the policies for your account.

  • Keep the recipient list private. Bcc can help you to be respectful of others' privacy by keeping them in the loop without disclosing their identities. For example, if you send a job announcement to multiple people, you may want to use Bcc to keep the identities of the potential job seekers private.

The Don'ts for Writing Great E-mail

  1. Don't send a follow-up message less than a day after the first message. If you don’t hear back in a timely manner, trying picking up the phone.

  2. Don't use ALL CAPS.

  3. Don't use sarcasm. Your humor may be misunderstood.

  4. Don't use stationery.

  5. Don't send a message when you are angry or frustrated. Better to write it, save it to your Drafts folder, and come back to it later. Or, don’t even write it until later.

  6. Don't include your manager on every message you send.

  7. Don't write something you wouldn’t want everyone in your company to read. You never know where your e-mail might end up. If you wouldn’t put it on a postcard, it probably shouldn’t be in an e-mail.

  8. Don't use read receipts or delivery receipts on every message you send. Use them only if you are unsure if your recipients will receive the message.

  9. Don't use decorative or funky fonts that can be hard to read.

  10. Don't attach flags or a High Importance marker to every message you send. Your recipients will learn to ignore them.

Put these techniques to work to create better e-mail messages and to reduce the volume of e‑mail you send.

This article is an excerpt from my Outlook 2010 Tips, Tricks & Techniques book.


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© Dawn Bjork Buzbee, MCT, The Software Pro®

Dawn Bjork Buzbee is The Software Pro® and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as well as a certified Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Instructor, certified Microsoft Applications Specialist (MCAS) Instructor, and a certified Microsoft Office expert. Dawn shares smart and easy ways to effectively use software through her work as a software speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of 8 books.

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