How to not suck at email

Nov 11, 2014

There are two types of people in this world: good emailers and bad emailers.

Signs and symptoms of bad emailing include, but are not limited to: extreme brevity, failing to answer one or more questions posed, harsh tones/sass, typos, and general unresponsiveness.

If you or a loved one have one or more of these symptoms, please seek help immediately as the effects of these symptoms may result in losing clients, friends, or just being unfairly judged by the general public for being bad at the internet.

Thankfully there is hope for those of you afflicted with bad-email-itis. The treatment is simple and will have you back in good internet standing in no time!

For those who suffer from extreme brevity

While haikus are lovely little morsels of information, your emails should never resemble one. In responding to emails and initiating them, make sure that all of the important information (and punctuation) is included. You should be able to anticipate potential follow up questions, and if you have an answer for them, preemptively include that information.

On the other hand, your emails should not be novellas either, ain’t nobody got time for that. Shoot for emails that are succinct, clear, and relevant.

For those who fail to answer one or more questions

From a business standpoint, this is one of the WORST offenses. Since email is typically the most efficient form of communication in business, failing to have your questions answered not only makes the entire correspondence useless (and a waste of precious time), but it can cause frustration and resentment.

If you find that your professional or personal contacts have to consistently follow up with you to re-ask questions, you might want to reevaluate how you respond to emails. If you need to take time to answer an email more thoughtfully, do that. Most people would rather wait longer for a complete response, rather than get a hastily replied response with missing information.

When emailing these types of offenders, make sure you include your questions in easily digestible bullet points, or bolded in a way that screams: “Hey, look at me! I have a question mark! And not in the rhetorical way!” If your questions go unanswered, email back as soon as possible to reiterate your questions and ask for clarification.

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For those who are sassmouths

As a fellow sassmouth I understand how tempting it can be to respond to a frustrating email in a harsh toned way. Email is an especially tricky medium because often it can be hard to decipher tone, and what one person may think is a perfectly normal and professional response, another person may take umbrage with.

If you are tempted to respond to someone in a harsh way, it might be good to take some time to cool off before responding. Let your emotions settle a little bit, and take the time to calmly and thoughtfully craft a response. If you want to go a step further, you can use ToneCheck which is a free software that will identify any words or phrases that might give off a negative tone. Check yo’self, before you wreck yo’self (and damage personal and professional relationships).

For sufferers of the dreaded typo (or worse, autocorrect!)

As enticing as it is to send and respond to emails from your phone, if you can wait until you are at an actual computer, then do. There are several reasons for this, for one, typing an email on a phone is the worst. It’s NEVER fun and it breeds brevity because people don’t like to do it for more than a sentence or two.

Furthermore, it can lead to embarrassing and unprofessional typos and autocorrects. Using a signature that excuses your brevity and any typos can be a way to preemptively apologize, however, a safer bet is to just not use your phone for email at all.

For those who suffer from general unresponsiveness

I don’t care if you are the overlord of the galaxy, you aren’t too busy to write an email. You may instead be kind of a flake, or a bit forgetful, but I don’t buy being too busy, and neither will the people you work with/for.

If you know you are a person who tends to flake on writing back right away, there are a few ways to remedy this:

  1. Make specific times of the day to check and respond to emails. Put it in your calendar if you have to so you set aside time in your schedule only for the purpose of reading and responding (thoroughly and thoughtfully) to emails.
  2. If there is an overwhelming amount of information to weed through and questions posed in a particular email, it is TOTALLY okay to respond saying that you will need some time to answer this email appropriately, and set a deadline to have it in by. Make sure to carve out time in your schedule to respond so that it doesn’t go forgotten.

Freelancers, what symptom of bad-email-itis annoys you the most?

Ashlee Christian is from the north-side of Chicago and will never stop saying "pop" or eating pizza with a fork and knife, so please stop trying to change her. Follow her on Twitter @nomadnation