1. Thou Shall Add Recipients to the Email LAST
The easiest way to avoid sending an email that hasn’t been thoroughly vetted is to not add the intended recipient(s) first. It is fine to edit the email as a draft, but wait until it is complete and proofread before adding the recipient(s).
Better yet, you could even type your email out in a word document, proofread and edit in there before sending it.
2. Thou Shall Accurately and Consistently Name File Attachments
Nothing is more confusing than trying to differentiate between “export-1.csv” and “export-8.csv.” You know precisely what I’m talking about and the people who don’t bother to appropriately rename their files.
I became a stickler about renaming my files during my internship. I had to dive through dozens of massive excel files that all looked the same. There was very little indication of what was different between them, and I needed to send them off for approval or interpretation by someone else.
To avoid confusion, I settled upon a consistent structure that has now evolved over time into other files.
Nowadays I name my files something like:
Date: Notice the use of periods; file names cannot contain slashes. Also, even though April could be written as 4.12.2020, putting a '0' in front aids in consistency.
Customer/Brand: Adding "Sony" in the front makes it easy to distinguish which customer or brand I am working with.
Project/Product: Obviously, knowing the purpose of the file is important. I use dashes to separate words, you could use camel-case like, "Sony-Mk2HeadphoneComponentCostList-Rev1." It's still legible, but with fewer characters.
Revision: Lastly the revision lets me and others know which file we are working on and I can communicate which is the latest version.
Without even opening the file, I know the date I originally created the file, the customer, what the contents of it are likely to be, and the revision number. Additionally, I use periods, underscores, and dashes to separate words without using spaces.
Pro-Tip: Use underscores, periods, and dashes instead of spaces. If you need to reference files in macros or other programs, this will make writing simple codes a lot easier in the long run (ask me how I know). Plus, I think it just looks cleaner and is more consistent.
Now, whoever receives the email can see what the file is and save it with the same name. No more confusion.
Pro-Tip 2: Secondly, make the use of a revision page. It doesn’t have to be anything super complex. Still, tracking who made what revision when and what was changed can help avoid confusion later.
3. Thou Shall Use If/Else Statements
Shout out to anyone who is a programmer or has written a basic program. An if/else statement is some of the most basic logic an application can use.
If x happens, then perform y;
Else, perform z.
In layman’s terms, if ‘x’ event happens, then ‘y’ action will be performed, and then the program ends. If ‘x’ event doesn’t happen, then ‘z’ action will be performed. You can use the same structure when communicating with others.
Good Morning John,
Have the magnet tolerances been submitted to Sony for the MK2 Headphones?
If it has, please notify Susan so she can begin the safety data sheets.
Otherwise, please provide me an update on where we stand by noon today.
This short conversation that uses an if/else statement eliminates the back and forth of at least 3 or 4 different emails. Try to keep these statements simple. If you start trying to get too complex and if/else-your-job into an email, then people won’t respond or will get very confused.
4. Thou Shall Include Specific References
You can seldom include too much information when it comes to making email requests. Explicit details, file attachments, and references to prior emails are incredibly helpful in making sure the person receiving the email can accurately fulfill your request.
Give specific dates for when a task needs to be complete, a response needs to be received, along with an explanation of why it needs to be done by then. A brief understanding of the implications for responding can motivate the recipient to reply sooner or with additional information that will help you get the task done.
For example, if I need to reference an email a customer sent to everyone 3 weeks ago, I will state, “This email from Joe on March 14th at 10:07AM said…” and then copy and paste whatever was said with it highlighted. Doing this makes it easy for anyone to see and then reference the email they received in their inbox if need be.
5. Thou Shall Not Misuse the ‘Important’ Marker
The more often you mark an email as ‘important,’ the more likely people will note that email as ‘not important’ in the future. It becomes a case of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf.’
In short, the less you use the ‘Important’ marker, the more likely people will open your email and fully read it. Save this marker for urgent or dire situations where it is 100% necessary that everyone understands and reads the entire email.
In addition to this, I wouldn’t recommend marking any email as ‘low priority.’ To me, that just screams, “Ignore ignore ignore!”
6. Thou Shall Proofread and Ask for Assistance
In exceptionally long or technical emails, be sure to proofread, and don’t be afraid to reach out for assistance. I always proofread when emails are going to be sent to very important individuals or large groups. Read the email aloud, word for word, and consider running it through a grammar-checker like Grammarly.
Typically, if an email is going outside the organization to multiple people or an important individual, my boss and others will be copied on it. It does not hurt to have your boss or others give the email a once-over to make sure it’s good to go. This is especially true when there are hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars being discussed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help; don’t forget to double and triple check your work.
Even for shorter emails on less-important matters, grammar is essential.
When emailing international clients or those whose first language is not English, you have to be very careful to avoid typos and misspellings. Those clients might not ‘get what you mean’ and take whatever you typed as literal and fact.
7. Thou Shall Be Clear, Specific, and Actionable
Be clear and specific in what you are asking. State-specific part numbers, project names, customers, ad campaigns, whatever it is you deal with. Get very granular in what your request refers to, and then make a direct request for what you need done with a date.
Don’t leave anything open-ended. Get straight to the point and have a specific task you want completed by the end of the week, next Tuesday, or by MM/DD.
8. Thou Shall Know the Difference Between ‘Reply’ and ‘Reply All’
Ask your older coworkers what their best ‘Reply-All’ story is. More often than not, they’ll chuckle and quickly be able to recall at least a handful of stories.
It might be the time John emailed his 401k documents back to HR (and everyone else) with his full name, address, and social security number. Or maybe the time Ryan made an inappropriate joke that went out to the entire company and was subsequently fired.
Those are actually real stories I’ve been told or witnessed myself.
Every company has tons of funny stories like that. The point of telling you this is so you don’t become one of those stories. What if someone stole John’s identity and royally fucked up his credit? Even if it’s not someone in the company that stole it, someone else’s email account could be compromised where that information could be leaked.
What about our fictional friend Ryan? What if it was a bad joke in front of a multi-million dollar customer? Or even worse, what if it was about the customer? Common sense isn’t all that common, and that little slip up could cost the company millions of dollars and whatever the lifetime value of the customer was.
Don’t say anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to be brought up in front of you in a court of law. Anything and everything you type in an email is a paper-trail that will come back to you if an issue arises. Do not make jokes, do not use sarcasm, and do not click ‘Reply All’ until the message you plan to send to everyone has been typed out and proofread in a separate document.
9. Thou Shall Avoid Sarcasm and Shorthand
This might fall under the 7th commandment, “Be Clear, Specific, and Actionable,” but given the age we live in, this specific instruction is necessary. Being ‘Clear and Specific’ means not using sarcasm and avoiding shorthand when communicating with people who may not understand it.
There’s a certain beauty in sarcasm in face-to-face interactions. You can tell it’s a joke by reading the other person’s tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and the current situation. In an email, nearly everything is taken as literal and explicit.
Because of this, avoid using any phrases or wording that could be taken as a joke or come off as offensive. It’s better to stay on the safe side than offend someone and cause an issue. Petty people are lurking everywhere and are just waiting for a chance to report you or others to HR. And since it’s in an email, there’s an exact paper-trail of what you said that’s out of your control.
Quick Rant: I get it, that sounds irritating in some ways. You can’t joke with fellow employees? No, no you can’t. Not in the era we live in where everyone is offended by everything. I would assume that your goal is to advance your career. Making sarcastic remarks will rarely be beneficial in doing so. The goal is to meet project deadlines and improve the company’s bottom-line performance.
The same goes for shorthand too. For industry-relevant acronyms, you’ll probably be alright. However, when communicating with someone that is new or you don’t know, it’s better to either not use shorthand or spell out acronyms and meanings in parentheses.
For example, an email to new-guy Daniel might look like:
Have you received a RFQ (Request For Quote) from the customer yet?
10. Thou Shall Use an Appropriate Greeting and Signature
Remember who you are addressing. 98% of the time, I am addressing the recipient by their first name. That’s just what I do, and that’s my style. However, in some instances, especially with people I don’t know, I will address them as Ms. or Mr. until I’ve had a couple interactions with them.
By default, anyone who has ever received an email from me has received a:
Which is meant to be read in an upbeat tone. However, I will adjust that “Thanks” to one with a comma instead of an exclamation point if I need to be particularly stern or demanding in an email.
Otherwise, that “Thanks!” could come off as demeaning and abrupt. You know, kind of like when someone gives instructions, then angrily leaves the room with a “THANKS!” while not looking at anyone and shutting the door.
Generally, your sign-offs will be either formal, casual, or show some signs of appreciation.
The table below is a list from Digital.com that talks about types of sign-offs.
Best of Luck
Thanks in advance
Thanks for everything
Have a good one
Thanks for your help
Looking forward to hearing from you
Have a good weekday/weekend
Thank you for your consideration
Looking forward to your reply
Hope this helps
Thanks so much
Can't thank you enough
I owe you one
Bonus 1: Send Emails at the Right Time!
While I don’t believe there’s ever truly a wrong time to send emails, certain times are better than others to ensure the recipient opens, reads, and responds to them.
Make use of an email scheduler like the Boomerang plugin for outlook to delay emails until ideal times like first thing in the morning or right after lunch.
Bonus 2: When Emailing Non-Native English Speakers, Keep the Language Simple
Let me be clear in saying, this is not meant to sound demeaning. When emailing someone whose first language is not English, it is better to err on the side of caution and keep communications simple.
I first learned this when I was trying to get into dropshipping and reaching out to suppliers on Alibaba. 99% of the suppliers were based in China, and their English was mediocre at best. Descriptive words and complex sentences were a no-go here.
Look at this screenshot of a message I sent years ago.
Make your adjustments appropriately. You don’t need to simplify it as much as I have if the recipient regularly does business with Americans or works for a multinational corporation. You can generally get a feel for the depth of their English after a few emails or a phone call.