Quick and Dirty! On Writing an Email, Not the Great American Novel.

You will often have situations where what you’re writing just needs to serve its purpose and not make you look like an idiot to the recipient. You just need it good enough and sooner rather than later.

8 tips for better writing that you can use right now:

1. Determine exactly what you need to respond to.

Right off the bat, you can clear up lousy writing by making sure you are actually giving the recipient what they need or were looking for. Understand what you are being asked for. After that, make sure what you wrote answers those questions or meets the request.

2. Sentences contain a subject and a predicate.

If you don’t remember elementary school: the subject is who or what the sentence is about while the predicate tells us something about the subject. Without either of these components, you have a fragment not a sentence. Sentence fragments don’t help the reader with anything. Plus, you look like an idiot for doing this.

A fragment has nothing to do with length. You can write a lot of words and still not have a sentence. You can have capital letters and punctuation and still not have a sentence. Check what you wrote. Make sure you can clearly identify the subject and predicate.

3. Read the thing you’ve written out loud (or quietly to yourself).

I can’t advocate this enough. This is the easiest way catch awkward sentences, dropped words, and incomplete thoughts, which contribute to lowering your credibility to your reader.

4. Watch the ‘tricky’ words.

If you are not sure, look up which word to use. Using the wrong version of these words is a quick way to make even the best writing lose creditability.

Here are a few examples:

Their: possessive pronoun

Example: We need to email their new lunch schedules before Monday’s event.

There: indicates a location in an abstract or more literal sense

Example: Put the boxes on the floor by the potted plant over there.

Example: There were nine candidates for the position in the lobby.

They’re: this is a contraction for they are.

Example: They’re a very competitive company when it comes to that market.

It’s: this is a contraction for it is.

Example: It’s going to rain soon.

Its: this is a possessive pronoun

Example: The printer needs its power cord replaced soon.

You’re: this is a contraction for you are

Example: You’re the best person for this project.

Your: this is a possessive pronoun

Example: Your request will be processed on Thursday.

5. Use spell check and grammar check with common sense.

Spell check and grammar check are life and credibility savers. They will catch and fix silly mistakes and hopeful attempts at spelling.

Yet, there is a dark side to these wonderful features. Sometimes in spell check’s attempt to be helpful, it will correct things like names or industry or company specific terms to what it thinks is correct. Grammar check will also suggest weird grammar corrections.

Make sure you pay attention to what they are suggesting and re-read the document after using these features.

6. Make use of ‘white space’ in your document.

Giant, dense blocks of text are harder to read. Breaking up the text into meaningful, relevant blocks can make it easier to read and let you bring emphasis to key points.

7. Watch the emotional load of the item.

Sarcasm and humor are difficult to convey in emails and other items because they also rely on nonverbal cues and tone of voice. How many times have you received an email or read something and questioned what the sender was trying to convey. Were they joking? Angry? Confused?

Now if you are upset, you can convey this in an email, but the question to now ask yourself is should you? It may be in your best interest to discuss the concern in person or perhaps call them.

If you do need to respond to something with an emotional charge, it is advisable to write a draft in Word or on paper first. This will give you a chance to write without the fear of accidently sending something you will regret. You can edit and rewrite or even let yourself calm down and revisit the matter later.

8. Write everything with the understanding this may be shared with people other than the intended recipient.

Emails get forwarded to anyone the receiver chooses and letters can be scanned, copied, and passed around. Be mindful when sharing sensitive or personal information. I have found it is best to be as professional as possible and to write as though this was going to be displayed on a billboard.

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