October 24, 2017

Your Tuesday Top 5: How to Communicate Effectively in Emails

Posted by AGU Career Center

Every Tuesday, Patricia Yaya, AGU Vice President of Human Resources & Administrative Services, sends a message to the entire AGU staff featuring five short tips for getting by in the workplace.  On the Job will be publishing these tips in a new weekly segment, Tuesday Top 5.

I don’t know about your email inbox, but mine is full. If I get fewer than 200 messages a day, I figure something is wrong with either my computer or the network. The constant onslaught of messages is overwhelming, and I’m betting that I am not alone in this.

Building on that, we all have our own methods to determine which emails to open and in what order. Generally, this is based on some level of triage. So, how can you improve your message’s chances of surviving that triage? 

Here are your Tuesday Top 5 tips for how you can communicate effectively in emails: 

1. Use strong and relevant subject lines. The words you choose for the subject line matter. You want your message to stand out and make an impact. Use a subject line that is specific to the message content. Subject lines can also be a great way to sort messages. If messages relate to a series or project, consider using a consistent subject line opener.

For example: Your Tuesday Top 5: [Title of this edition]

2. Know your audience. Who is receiving your message? How you message your coworkers may be different than how you message leaders and consultants. As a best practice, before you write your message, imagine yourself in the recipient’s shoes. After this brief exercise, draft the communication, making sure that you tailor the message to that specific individual/group. Also, be sure to address why the information is important to them. 

3. Get to your point. Start the correspondence with your reason for writing. Be brief and precise. 

Hint: If you find your message going on and on, it’s likely better managed as a conversation and not an email. 

4. Make it readable. Write your message concisely and logically so that it can be processed quickly.

  • Use short paragraphs with no more than four, short sentences each.
  • Use bulleted lists and subheads where appropriate.
  • Be polite. DO NOT YELL. Do not yell! either.
  • Check spelling and grammar.
  • Choose your words deliberately, keeping them simple. Write up to the 8th grade reading level (Yes, we realize you are scientists and most scientific concepts are not necessarily going to fit well using 8th grade vocabulary. Just try to avoid letting it seep into the non-scientific parts of your message).

Do not worry about insulting someone’s intelligence; instead, appreciate that your message is one of many in the queue and that if it takes time to process, it may get pushed to the “I don’t have time for this today pile.”  

Hint: Use a readability calculator to gauge the reading level of your correspondence. 

5. End with a desired outcome. Close your email with what you expect or need. For example, “Complete the survey no later than Wednesday, 25 October.”

Patricia Yaya is the Vice President of Human Resources and Administrative Services at the American Geophysical Union.  Additional AGU Staff contributed to this blog.