If you’re going to use an email thread to a start a new conversation (hey, it’s already got all the people I need…less typing!), then change the subject line to indicate the new conversation. While you’re at it, go ahead and delete all the previous conversation so it’s really clear the two topics aren’t related.
2. To: vs CC:
If I’m COPIED on an email, I assume it’s informational. If it’s TO me, then I assume there’s an action I need to take or that a response from me is required. There’s a reason these are different boxes. And let’s all agree to not use the BCC box. If you’re sending information to several unrelated people, then BCC is fine. But the rest of the time, you’re just being shady. There’s no reason to keep anyone’s involvement in the conversation a secret.
3. “Please see the conversation below.”
I receive this email all the time. Heck, I send this email all the time. Someone new needs to be looped into a conversation and I don’t feel like retyping everything I want them to know. But I take the time to summarize the conversation. At a minimum, highlight the pertinent piece(s) of the conversation and delete all the old email addresses. I need to know who sent each email, but that’s all. Scrolling through a ten-email string on a 5” phone screen is no fun, especially when I have no idea what I’m supposed to be getting out of the email.
4. What do you want from me?
Be sure to include your expectation for the recipient’s response in the email. People are much more likely to follow up to a single question than a soliloquy. If you need answers to several questions, then put them in a list rather than a paragraph.
On the receiving side, “Responses in line below.” is a go-to for me. I used to write paragraph responses to a paragraph of questions. And then I’d get sidetracked, go on a rant about the decreasing size of peanut butter jars, and miss half the questions I needed to answer. Putting an answer next to every question or a response after every paragraph helps. After all, no one at work really cares that Jif is charging the same price for three fewer ounces of peanut butter than two years ago.
5. Punctuation, spelling and emoticons
I know I said that informal emails are ok. And they are. But you should know your target audience. Don’t email the CEO three smiley faces and twelve exclamation points and sign off with “Later.”
- Exclamation points – No one is that excited about work. One exclamation point per email is probably sufficient.
- Emoticons – If you wouldn’t put it in a memo, don’t put it in an email.
- Spelling – The computer fixes it for you; there is never an excuse for bad spelling. You have to know the difference between homophones (although Outlook catches most of these nowadays), but that’s elementary school stuff. And unless you are writing titles for pop songs (à la Prince), using numbers to replace words is never ok.
- Grammar – In general, I try to follow the rules of grammar, but I’m a nerd (experience with the cloning machine aside). I understand that this is less important to other people and even I have been known to not capitalize a word or include the subject in a sentence.