3 tips to improve your email writing

help

Many people find it difficult to write effective business emails. I see two reasons for this. The first is that they are not approaching the act of writing in a methodical manner. To put it bluntly, they do not give much thought to writing an email. They write it and then press the send button. The second reason is that they do not have the language to convey what they want to say.

In this post, we’ll be tackling the first reason: that is how to approach the act of writing an email. Here are my suggestions:

1. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. 

 

shoes

Who are you writing this email to? Do you need to be formal or informal? How much background information should you include? Do you need to CC anyone else?

To answer all these questions. Think of a pair of shoes, that are not yours. And then, put your feet into them. Warning: it may hurt you!

If the email is for close colleagues, then you can be informal or semi-formal. If it is destined for the CEO, then perhaps you should be more towards the formal side of the scale.

If you are writing an email to colleagues who are working on the same project, then you may not need to give too much background information. However, if you are sending an email to a vendor, then you may need to give lots of background information.

2. Write short sentences 

pencil-and-ruler-vector-204967

 

After delivering email writing workshops for many years, this has been my number one learning. Write short sentences. Write short sentences. Write short sentences. Yes, I really cannot emphasize it enough! If you are not confident of your grammar, this piece of advice really helps. I have seen long sentences winding their way through an email. And the longer they wind, the greater the chance that they will contain grammatical errors.

Try counting the words in your sentences. You should be able to manage with seven to twelve words per sentence. Try it. You’ll thank me later 🙂

3. Think before you hit that send button

 

send

Once it’s gone, it’s gone. There have been many embarrassing situations. For instance, a message CCed to everyone, when that was not the plan. Or, someone sent a message in a fit of anger to her boss. And then minutes later, the sender regrets the language she used. Or… Well, there are so many scenarios. You may have your own example.

I know that many people cannot resist pressing that send button. After pressing it, the email has left your screen. Thank god… But, remember, it will soon show up on someone else’s screen. So ask yourself these questions. Have I edited the message? Are there any grammatical errors? Have I explained myself clearly? Is the message polite? (For polite language, you can read my post on 7 tips to soften your language . )

 

Keep these 3 points in mind, and your email writing skills will improve. I promise it will. (See how effective a four-word sentence is.)

 

 

7 tips to soften your language

soft

In informal language, you can say just about anything. And you don’t necessarily have to be polite.

This is not the case when using language at the workplace. Here the language needs to be more controlled, structured, and polite.

Let’s look at seven words or phrases which can soften your language:

  1. Thank you 

Use this phrase as often as possible. Don’t worry, the universe is not running out of thank you’s.

When you receive an email from a colleague, acknowledge it with: Thanks, Janet!

Or, if it has to be more formal: Thank you for sending the updated file.

If you are corresponding with someone outside your office, you can use ‘thank you’ as a form of acknowledgement.

Instead of writing:

This is to acknowledge the receipt of your application dated 12.02.18,

you could write:

Thank you for sending your application on 12.02.18.

Doesn’t that sound better?

2. Please

Pulease… Is used by teenagers often. And they are right in using it. Like ‘thank you’, please should be used often. Use please with everyone: to both your superiors and subordinates. Especially to your subordinates…

Compare these two lines:

Make sure that the annual reports are printed by 2 pm.

Please make sure that the annual reports are printed by 2 pm.

The word ‘please’ softens the sentence. And makes it sound less like a command. The person reading this message would respond positively to it.

3. Can vs. Could vs. May (asking for permission) 

The most informal way to ask for permission is can.

Can I use the conference room for ten minutes?

At work, if you wish to be more formal, use could.

Could I use the conference room for ten minutes?

If you are in a formal situation, then go for: may.

May I use the conference room for ten minutes?

4. Can vs. May (giving permission) 

When giving permission, we say, ‘yes, you can‘ or ‘yes, you may‘.

May is more polite than can.

Don’t say: yes, you could. That may cause some confusion in the mind of the listener. Well, could I, or couldn’t I?

5. Would 

Would is an excellent word to use when trying to soften your language.

Would you agree?

That’s softer than: Do you agree?

Here are some expressions that use ‘would’:

Would you mind if we start early tomorrow?

Would you like to read the summary first?

I would suggest we look at other options.

  6. Shall  

This is a polite verb to use. For example:

Shall I call all the interns?

Shall we start the meeting?

In fact, the term ‘shall we’ can be used at the start of almost any activity:

Shall we start the presentation? Shall we start the conference call? Shall we break for lunch? Shall we

When starting an activity (meeting, presentation), it’s a good idea to use: we. It’s a nice way of making people feel included.

7. Let’ s 

In a more informal setting, say with colleagues who you know well, you can use ‘let’s’ instead of ‘shall’.

Let’s start the meeting.

Let’s listen to Nalini’s update.

Let’s order a cake!

 

Being polite is important. It creates a positive atmosphere at work and is a professional way of conducting yourself.  Could being polite become contagious? I certainly hope so…

 

 

Will vs. Would

will you marry me

Let’s look at when to use will and would.

After reading this post, I’m sure you’ll agree that ‘will you marry me?’ is a better option than ‘would you marry me?’.

Use of will 

We use will to talk about the future. For example:   

“Natasha will complete editing the report by this evening.” 

We also use will when we decide to do something at the moment of speaking:

“Don’t worry. I will help you with the accounts.”

 Use of would

There are many ways to use would. We use it:

  • to talk about the past, in the same way we use ‘used to’.

When I was in Mumbai, I would jog everyday in the morning. 

When Praveen was here, we would review the sales figures every Monday. 

  • to ask a polite question.

Would you like to meet the duty manager?”

  • to make a polite request.

Would you mind if we leave early?”

  • to make a polite recommendation.

“I would suggest that we wait till tomorrow.”

  • to talk about something conditional.

“If I were you, I would hire both of them.”

 “I would attend the conference, if I could find the time.” 

“I would have sent you the file, if you had asked me.” 

  • with indirect speech.

“He said that Anjali would meet us tomorrow morning at the hotel.”

In indirect speech, we are reporting what someone else said. In that case, we use would and not will. We should not say: “He said that Anjali will meet us…”

When to use will instead of would

There are situations when using would could cause some confusion. Let’s look at these two sentences:

I would send you the finalised contract.

I will send you the finalised contract.

The first sentence sounds tentative. I may or may not send the contract. The unsaid meaning could be: If certain conditions are met, I would send it.

While the second sentence is more certain. It is more reassuring: yes, I will send it.

Having said that, do keep in mind that the use of would and will can be more nuanced. For example, if you want to be polite and are sure that there will be no confusion in the mind of the reader, you can write: I would send you the finalised contract. However, if you feel that there could be room for misinterpretation, then go for: I will send you the finalised contract.

And now you know why the question is: will you marry me.

Would you agree?

 

 

 

 

 

 

When do I use: ‘&’ ?

&

I was in Uttarakand recently, where I stumbled upon this rather clever sign (note the bullet holes!). And it made me start thinking about the symbol ‘&’, which is read as: ampersand.

In corporate India, the ampersand is commonly used in business emails. If you are writing formal communication, it is better to go with the full form: and. Try to avoid using ‘&’. It gives the message an informal feel.

However, this symbol does have a place in the business world. The ampersand is used in the titles of companies, think Tata & Sons, or Ernst & Young.

Of course, when you are SMSing and WhatsApping friends, it is absolutely fine to substitute ‘and’ with ‘&’. In informal communication, the rules of writing are relaxed and priority is giving to speed and convenience.

When you’re writing your next business email, check whether you are using the ampersand…

 

Why not: Trusted from 1906?

 

since

 

At times, I have heard: “I’ve been working here from 2015.”

Actually it should be: “I’ve been working here since 2015.”

Or one can say: “I’ve been working here for two years.”

Here is how since and for are used:

since + point in time       (since 1906)

for + period of time        (for 10 years)

We do use from with time expressions, but in a different sense. Here are some examples:

The conference starts from tomorrow. 

The shop is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. 

And yes, by now you know why the ad is correct: Trusted since 1906.

In fact, from now on, you know the difference between since and for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 common errors in business writing

 

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It is important to be accurate and formal (or semi-formal) while writing business emails. Here are three common errors that many people make:

  1. This email is with regards to your visit.

It should read: … with regard to your visit.

We use the word ‘regards’ when we say: “Send him my regards!”

Or, when we sign off  on an email:

Regards,

Payal

 

    2. I am looking forward to meeting you.

The phrase, looking forward to, is informal.  We use it when communicating with friends. For example: I’m looking forward to meeting your cousin.

If you wish to have a more formal tone, then write:

I look forward to meeting you.

Note that it should not read: I look forward to meet you.

The verb should always end in -ing. For example:

I look forward to receiving the book.

I look forward to speaking with you.

In this structure, instead of  a verb (speaking, receiving), we can use a noun.

For example:

I look forward to your reply.

I look forward to the presentation.

3. For any clarification, contact me. 

This is informal, and it is okay among friends / colleagues (who are friends).

If you wish to be more formal, write:

If you need any clarification, do not hesitate to contact me. 

If you need any clarification, please call me at 86393389. 

If you need any clarification, please send an email to Tony at: abc@xyz.com

 Do not write: If you need any clarification, please contact the undersigned.

This sounds like a lot of work. The reader will first have to find who this mysterious ‘undersigned’ is.

Remember, in general, try to keep your business communication simple and straightforward.

 

 

 

Apostrophes: When do we use them?

apostrophe

This message is from my local gym. What caught my eye was the unnecessary apostrophe in ‘Saturdays’.

Apostrophes are terrible easy to use. And yet, there are often misused. As in most things in life, you just have to be clear as to how to use them. Here are three common uses:

  1. To show possession 

girl’s (singular)     girls’ (plural)

2. After time expressions

One week’s time

Two weeks’ time (note that the apostrophe in this case comes after the ‘s’)

3. For informal speech 

do not   becomes  don’t 

I am becomes I’m 

you are becomes you’re 

Pay attention when you see: it’s

It’s can be ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. It depends on the context. Look at these two examples:

a. It’s raining! (It is)

b. It’s been nice speaking with you. (It has)

 

If you wish to write anything in its plural form, such as protein shakes, push-ups, and Saturdays, there is no need to add an apostrophe. Don’t do it.

And yes, there are exceptions. We use apostrophes when we talk of minding your P’s and Q’s. But, I think you knew that already…