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William Hanson reveals his ultimate guide to writing the perfect email

Jul 4, 2019

Do YOUR email habits make you look bad-mannered? Etiquette expert William Hanson reveals the faux pas to avoid – including sending messages before 10am on a Monday

  • Etiquette expert William Hanson revealed the top tips to improve your emails
  • He said senders should cut out waffle and keep messages as clear as possible
  • Mr Hanson also said senders should not enrage people with a hopeless chase up

We are in an age where being liked is preferable to being correct.

The lack of deference is alarming and nowhere is this more obvious on a daily basis than our emails.

You’d think we’d all be quite good at this email lark seeing how many we send each day. But, alas, no.

Here are my tips for how to improve your inbox.

Etiquette expert William Hanson reveals his ultimate guide to writing the perfect email (stock photo)

A question of length

Size does matter and we don’t want to receive a big length. Long, Pulitzer-worthy missives are never viewed with much favour.

In the words of writer Merlin Mann, ‘assume everyone is busier and smarter than you’ so keep your message as succinct as possible.

Cut out the waffle – and yes, you can still be polite if you do that.

Timing is everything

Do you love getting to your emails at the crack of dawn to work through your backlog? Great, but your email recipients’ don’t share your love of efficiency: they hate you.

By all means type the emails at whatever time but save them as a draft and wait for a conventional office hour to press send.

Mr Hanson (pictured) said senders should cut out the waffle and keep messages as clear as possible

Alternatively, there are email scheduling tools on certain platforms – and even apps – that allow you to choose when the email is sent.

If you want your email to be looked upon with greater favour, avoid sending it before 10am on a Monday, after 4pm on a Friday or on the weekends.

The onus is now on the sender to respect the recipient’s time.

Familiarity breeds contempt

How many times has an overly chummy missive appeared on your screen from someone who is apparently your best friend or is desperately trying to be?

‘Hey Will’ I often get from people who have (clearly) never met me.

People wrongly assume that if they come across as anything but cheery and likeable their email will be ignored or deleted. But not everyone is your friend, or needs to be.

Although we are now a more relaxed society, never shorten someone’s name or use an overly casual greeting when emailing them for the first time.

Best stick with ‘Dear William’ or (preferably) ‘Dear Mr Hanson’ rather than using Hey, Hi or Howdy.

Also – hey is what horses eat: it is not a salutation.

How to chase

When you don’t receive a reply from someone you have emailed ‘cold’ then it’s probably a sign they aren’t interested.

Of course, it’s discourteous of them not to respond, even if to politely brush you off, but don’t enrage them with a hopeless chase up. Suck it up and move on.

But when you do need a reply from colleagues, service providers and clients then there is a better way to electronically nudge them whilst saving their face.

Rather than abruptly forwarding the email to the intended recipient, take the blame yourself, and give them a way to get out of their lapse of efficiency.

‘Sending the below again as our email servers have been experiencing some difficulties and various emails sent over the last few days haven’t been getting through. Please find again below. Here’s hoping it works this time.’

They may know what you’re really implying, but should have the good manners to say nothing and just get on with replying to your email… even if it is to tell you to go away.

Email cliches

You don’t really hope they are well, so avoid saying it.

In doing so you are starting your email with a hollow insincerity and we can leave all that to our American cousins who are all busy having a great day.

Similarly, I think we have all worked out by now that ‘Please let me know if you have any questions’; is a thinly veiled cliche meaning, ‘I hope you don’t have any’.

Keep it positive

‘Sorry I’m late to get back to you’; ‘what terrible weather we are having’. They may both be true but don’t start your email with doom and gloom.

As lyrics tell us: ‘keep it light, keep it bright, keep it gay’. You may well have taken a few days to get back to them but with some cunning rewording you can not only remain less submissive in your interaction but you can avoid spelling it out that you’re at fault.

Instead try: “Thank you for giving me a day or two to come back to you”.

And rather than telling them how miserable the rain is making you, switch it up and find a positive. Try: “Well I am sure the gardens are loving the rain – the grass is really going to look greener in no time.”

Mr Hanson also said senders should not enrage people with a hopeless chase up (stock photo)

The subject line

There is an art in headline writing. We know that only too well. And that is exactly what the subject line is.

It’s a way to grab someone’s attention but also to summarise the contents for filing purposes and future frantic searches through the annals of your inbox.

Vague subjects like ‘Next Week’, ‘Sales’, ‘Request’ or my least favourite ‘Hello’ are best avoided.

Try to avoid using more than five or six words.

Similarly, never put your entire message into the subject line leaving the body blank.

What email isn’t

As much as email is the lifeblood of modern business, there are some ways not to use it.

Never use it as a replacement for instant messaging.

If you need a reply ASAP then either pick up the telephone, text or use a messaging app like Slack or WhatsApp.

Equally, using it to discuss a topic at length is completely bad form. If you need to debate something – schedule a meeting.

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