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When it Comes to Email, Clarity is Key



First impressions are formed whenever we first encounter someone. They are made unconsciously and based entirely on the perception of the viewer. In just seconds, someone is forming an impression of whether we are someone they want to work with, someone they can trust, someone they respect, and someone they are confident can handle matters professionally. And, once formed, first impressions are extremely difficult to change


With more than 300 billion emails sent every day in 2020, someone’s first impression of us may be based solely on one of our emails. Etiquette expert Peter Post’s statement that “every email we send, either adds to or detracts from our reputation,” certainly resonates with me.


We may devote time to cultivating our online reputation and yet shoot off emails without a second thought. I have found it to be well worth my time to devote care and attention to my emails. My reputation is too important to me to risk it.


One way to ensure our emails receive the perception we intend and garner the reputation we deserve is to craft clearer emails. Here are three tips to providing greater clarity.


First, commit to writing far more succinct emails. Experts say that within the first three lines of our email, the recipient should know what we need from them or what they need to know. After these three lines, we need to quickly get to the point. We do not need to include all the backstory the reader would ever want to know. We need to provide only enough to give context or the “why.”


Secondly, provide clarity in how the recipient is to respond. I number each item or question. Numbers are better than bullets so the recipient can easily respond “Yes to items 1, 2 and 5. No to the rest.” When appropriate, I ask the recipient to respond directly in the body of the email next to the applicable item or question. This greatly reduces any potential misunderstandings and saves us both time.


Finally, offer specificity by limiting the use of open-ended questions. Even well-intended, but open questions such as “how may I help?” may not be very helpful at all. Email generosity and clarity is demonstrated when we use simple easy to answer questions. We can offer specific options: “Can I help best by (a) working late tonight with you, (b) taking responsibility for one of the items on your to do list, or (c) leaving you alone so you can concentrate.


Just because emails are received quickly does not mean they need to be written quickly. I had a mentor who often said, “I would have written a shorter letter if I had more time.” It will take more time on our end to craft clearer messages, but the respect and reputation we earn in return seems well worth it. I know that when I receive emails that are clearly and concisely written, I think highly of the writer as well as the organization where he or she works. I also respect that person for respecting my time.

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