What makes emails ineffective, and even insulting

Flickr user Biscarotte

(MoneyWatch) Anyone who has sent an impulsive, emotional email to a co-worker or (worse) a manager knows the danger that email poses. It's both immediate and impersonal, since you can say things in a written message that are harder to to say face-to-face. Worse, like a missile fired at its target, once you turn the key you can't recall it. And your emails don't even have to be intentionally acerbic to do damage.

As tech site MakeUseOf recently pointed out, there all sorts of subtle ways you can make your recipients angry whenever you send an email, to wit:

You send a two-word email. I used to joke that a former editor wrote such short emails that he would leave out all the vowels. Although succinct message are good, don't be so terse (excuse me, trs) that your message ends up being confusing or ambiguous. For instance, a friend recently asked her manager if he would prefer option A or option B. It was an either-or question -- he answered "yes." Use complete sentences, and provide enough context so your email makes sense.

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You write a short novel. The opposite of the spectrum is when you write such long emails that it feels like you're slogging through a Neal Stephenson novel to get to heart of the message. For these people, my advice is simple: Write less. But if you have trouble making your emails a length that humans want to read, follow the strategy called "BLUF" -- put the Bottom Line Up Front. First answer the question, ask the question or address up high whatever it is your email is about. And only then add any additional context.

You use dramatic adverbs. We're all guilty of this occasionally, but the sad thing is that it's the easiest email sin to fix. It's all a matter of counting to 10, re-reading your email and making sure that you leech the emotion out of your email before you click send. Read your message and look for trigger words that add emotional color to what should be clinical business conversations. "Your plan is painfully vague" is likely to anger the plan's author. Delete the adverb, though, and your criticism that the plan is vague is easier to swallow and more likely to be handled professionally without saddling you with a reputation as an email bomb thrower.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Biscarotte

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