Millennials are highly attuned to written communication. We can detect an overtone in a text message as short as “fine.” Yet, we often completely disregard the inferences people will make when reading our poorly drafted informal e-mails.
And it’s killing your career.
I was a culprit of the poorly drafted e-mail when I was in engineering school. Engineers have a reputation for being terrible with the written word, and I was no exception.
Here’s an old e-mail I sent to my engineering professor in 2011:
“Dr. Frank – That’s very disappointing to hear that the Hybrid Car was cancelled, I was very enthusiastic when I discovered my assignment was the Hybrid Car. That being said, If i do need to be switched I would like to be placed on the Solar Car . . . In summery, If i must be transferred I would prefer to be transferred to the Solar Car.”
That’s hard for me to read –
Law school taught me to write clearly. I learned to consider the assumptions my colleagues would make from the quality of my e-mails. Now I get a nice Ryan Reynolds quiver every time I see friends and colleagues make the same mistakes I made.
In an effort to help my fellow Millennials, here are my recommendations for a well crafted e-mail.
Know your audience
An e-mail that presents itself as too formal can make you seem cold and calculated. On the other hand, an e-mail that lacks all formality appears immature and unprofessional.
As a rule of thumb, a professional e-mail should be formal. Once you’ve established a social relationship with the recipient, you can judge whether to lower the level of formality in you’re email correspondence with that person.
Here’s an example of what a professional e-mail might look like:
I hope all is well. I mailed the Douglas package today using the mailing address on record. The Douglas’ should receive their item by Thursday evening. Please let me know if you would like me to take any further action with regard to this account.
Don’t hesitate to put a personal touch on a professional e-mail. The use of an introductory sentence such as “I hope all is well” communicates to the recipient that you’re human and you care about their well being. The rest of the e-mail should be business.
At the end of your e-mail feel free to use any of the standard closings. I prefer to use “Kind regards” as shown above. However, “Best”, “Best regards”, “Regards”, and “Sincerely”, are all acceptable.
A professional e-mail should (almost) never use shorthand
All too often I see professional e-mails where the drafter didn’t capitalize “i”. If you’re too lazy to capitalize a personal pronoun, why should anyone trust you with responsibility.
While it may not seem like a major concern, making even the smallest of mistakes when composing e-mails can have a major impact on your career since poor writing skills can give colleagues and customers the impression that you’re not really educated or skilled enough to do your jobs properly.
That reminds me of a quote: “if you can’t do the dishes right, how are you going to run a fortune 500 company.” In other words, show the recipient that you have an attention to detail and that you do the little things right.
The one exception to this rule is custom. Many professions use shorthand to efficiently communicate messages. It’s certainly okay to use shorthand that is customary in your office. For example, a joint development agreement is referred to as a “JDA” in the legal practice. Use these shorthands, but if I catch you using “ur,” we’re going to have a talk.
Life Intentionally. Live Purposefully. The Millennial Post.