Email Writing Tips to Improve Workplace Communication - Avoid Scary Subject Lines & Watch Your Tone

Published: 22nd November 2011
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A couple of days ago, I received an email from a flustered colleague who needed my help to proofread a document. The subject line was, "URGENT!!!!!!"

Instinctively, my fingers began to tremble and I seriously thought twice about opening that email. I wouldn't be joking if I said I nearly broke out into a cold sweat!

When I eventually opened the message, it read:

MARC (yes, in CAPS!),

I have an IMPORTANT meeting this afternoon and I need you to review this document. I need it very, very URGENTLY! Your co-operation is appreciated! Get back to me ASAP!

Sounds familiar? Imagine if you were the recipient, how would you feel? Unfortunately, this scenario is common in today's fast-paced business world. People often type and send their messages very quickly, seldom putting in much thought to writing in an appropriate tone.

Back to the email.

Can you spot everything that's wrong with it?

First of all, my colleague obviously didn't care about my emotion - the anxiety I would experience after reading her subject line. Every time I see my colleague's name in the "From" field, I would subconsciously choose to avoid opening her mail, even if it brings good news. This is also the number one reason why relationships break down - either party (or both) could have anchored each other to a negative emotion that re-invokes a painful jolt.

Secondly, the wording in the email I received was very harsh and makes the sender sound egotistical. The repetitive use of I and the expression I need achieve nothing but make the writer sound self-centered. Even the commonly mis-used term ASAP contains a negative connotation and should be avoided at all costs. You're working in an office, not the Army.

Thirdly, you should never use CAPITALS and excessive punctuation (!!!!!!!) because it only makes you sound rude and nothing will be gained. Just imagine someone yelling into your ear and you'll get the picture. In fact, you are more likely to get what you want by being courteous.

Now see the difference in the same email written in a more positive way:

Subject: Can I have your expert advice?

Hi Marc,

I'm really sorry to trouble you on top of your heavy workload, but I need your help to proofread an important document. It's only 2 pages long and shouldn't take too much of your time.

It would be fantastic if you could send the revisions before 2 pm.

Thanks again for your help Marc, I couldn't have done it without you!

Wouldn't you agree that reading this somehow made you feel good?

In a nutshell, here's a guideline to help you sound less self-centered and give your emails more professionalism. Apply these principles and I guarantee you'll emerge as a more likable and respectable person!

  • Include upbeat subject lines in your emails - use positive words such as "fabulous", "expertise", "great", or anything that puts a smile on your readers' faces ("Can I have your expert advice?")

  • Eliminate the use of authoritative phrases/terminology such as "I need", "I want", "I demand" and "ASAP", use words that trigger a positive response instead ("It would be fantastic if you could send the revisions before 2 pm")

  • Show empathy, and identify with your readers' emotions wherever possible ("I'm really sorry to trouble you on top of your heavy workload")

  • Use positive affirmations and always thank your recipient ("Thanks again for your help Marc, I couldn't have done it without you!")

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