When and How to Send An E-Mail

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E-mail takes up a large portion of your day and might form the majority of your conversation with the outside world.

If you find yourself getting into long e-mail chains, following up e-mails with phone calls, or wonder why nobody respond to your e-mails, it is time to revamp your e-mail writing and get the most from your e-mails.

When is e-mail the proper medium?

There is no specific list, but think about the purpose of communicating before putting fingers to the keyboard. Are you simply asking a question or are you trying to have a conversation? If you are asking more than one or two pieces of information, pick up the phone.

Using e-mail as a de facto phone is actually less efficient. Think about it. If you send an e-mail and get an immediate response, then have another question and sit around waiting for a response, did you really just save any time? Doubtful.

The subject field exists for a reason

The subject field is like your heading a brief. Let the reader know why you e-mailed them. It might result in a faster response.

Keep it short and to make it clear what information you need

Again, if you want to have a conversation, pick up the phone. Avoid writing a two-paragraph introduction about the weather. Make it easy for your recipient to figure out why you e-mailed them and what you want from them. I would suggest putting your request either in the first or last line. Sticking it in the middle may result in a non-response.

E-mail can save time and make you more efficient if properly used. Be one of the “good” e-mailers, not one of the bad!

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  • Susan Gainen

    One way to have your emails ignored is to begin with “I have a question,” to continue with 5+ paragraphs outlining the problem, and to fail to end with “I will call you tomorrow to set up a meeting.”

    Career counselors and other student services professionals are especially vexed by long problem-declaring emails that require live (phone or in-person) conversations to identify the ACTUAL problems and to begin to create solutions. Librarians call this the “reference interview” and it allows information professionals to identify the length and breadth of a problem, including issues unknown to the questioner.

    If a problem is sufficiently complex to require 5 or more paragraphs to describe, expecting a one-word answer or imagining that it would be possible to reply meaningfully before having engaged a “reference interview,” is disrespectful to the gravity of a problem.

  • Related problem: Bad use of voice mail. Leaving a “Hi-this-is-so-and-so-call-me [click]” voice mail is equally unproductive.

    If you’re looking for the answer to a question, ask it and let the person get back to you with the answer. If it’s too long a question for voice mail, at least mention the general subject matter. That way, if the person needs to look up something or have a reference in hand when s/he returns your call, there’s not another round of “Oh, I don’t know off the top of my head, I’ll have to get back to you” to deal with. This saves YOU time.

    And for heaven’s sake, don’t rattle off your phone number like an auctioneer on caffeine overload. Say the area code, pause a beat, say the three-digit prefix, pause another beat, and say the rest of the number, then (unless the person knows you pretty well already) repeat your name. That’ll do a lot to improve their ability to WRITE IT DOWN AND CALL YOU BACK. Which is sort of the point, isn’t it?