Email 201(b): Writing Done Right

“An email can make or break a potential opportunity for you, so send and respond to them wisely!” –Leila Lewis

There are several questions you should ask yourself before sending an email:

(1) Should I be sending this?, (2) Have I included the details necessary for the recipient to understand my question or concern?, (3) Will the content of this email leave the recipient with a positive impression of me?, and (4) Does this email adhere to writing conventions deemed acceptable by faculty, staff, and other professionals?

For each of these four questions, I outline a set of criteria that you can use to assess and improve your email communication. Of course, to avoid a potentially embarrassing breach of email etiquette, you will need to do so prior to clicking the send button. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”–wise advice that can be applied to almost anything, including email communication.

Should I be sending this?

_____  Does this email address a problem or question that truly requires input from a trained and qualified professional?

_____  Is the problem or question addressed in this email one that really needs to be addressed at this time, or might I be seeking help prematurely?

_____  Have I made a sincere attempt to address the question or problem myself? If so, have I consulted at least three relevant and appropriate resources (e.g., university website, syllabus, etc.) prior to writing this email?

_____  Is the question or problem described in this email one that can easily be addressed in writing, or would another form of communication (e.g., phone call, meeting) be more appropriate?

_____  Will the recipient be able to address my problem or question with no more than three to five typewritten sentences?

Have I included the necessary details?

_____  If applicable, have I included a brief self-introduction, including my name and my relationship to the recipient (e.g., student, advisee)?

_____  If applicable, have I provided information about the course (e.g., course title and section, meeting days and times) to which my question or concern pertains?

_____  If applicable, have I summarized briefly a previous conversation or interaction related to my problem or concern?

_____  Have I described the steps I have already taken to try to address the problem or concern on my own, and/or provided any information I have found with respect to my problem or question? (hearsay does not count)

_____  If applicable, have I provided several days and times (e.g., 1:00-3:00, 9:00-12:30) that I would be available to meet with the recipient?

_____ If applicable, have I provided contact information such as my Skype ID or cell phone number?

Will this leave the recipient with a positive impression of me?

_____  Have I avoided making excuses for my poor performance or my failure to meet  established expectations?

_____  Have I avoided asking for “special” treatment, except in situations such as a serious illness, a death in the family, or the observance of a religious holiday?

_____  Have I cultivated a tone of respect, humility, and gratitude?

_____  Have I avoided making myself look irresponsible, lazy, unmotivated, or otherwise unacceptable?

_____  Have I checked the recipient’s education credentials and position to ensure that I am addressing him/her by the correct title (e.g., Dr., Ms., Professor)?

Does this adhere to accepted writing conventions?

_____  Have I proofread the document very carefully?

_____  Have I corrected all errors related to grammar, spelling, and punctuation?

_____  Have I written in complete sentences?

_____  Have I separated larger chunks of texts into paragraphs?

_____  Have I written out all words and phrases, avoiding acronyms and abbreviations?

_____  Does my greeting occupy a separate line within the email?

_____  Does my closing occupy a separate line within the email?

In this post, I have outlined criteria appropriate for assessing and improving your email communication. Remember to use these criteria to assess your writing before you click the send button, as careful and deliberate email communications can help you achieve your personal, academic, and professional goals.






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