Writing an email. It’s one of the simplest yet most difficult ways to communicate with someone. In the age of online messaging, even the most well-meaning comment can be misconstrued and lead to a whole lot of explaining. These kinds of mistakes in communication not only can occur in emails, but also in letters and memos.
FIU News spoke to an expert on writing and a couple of professors who have experience with student writing. They offered some timeless advice.
Here are eight tips that can help make sure that anything you write is clear and effective.
- BE CONCISE. Make sure your reader is able to easily identify what it is you’re trying to tell them in the first couple of sentences. Elaborating is important but be careful not to elaborate too much and confuse the reader.
- READ YOUR WORK OUT LOUD. It’s useful to read what you’ve written out loud before sending it. This can help prevent grammatical errors as well as making sure that anything you have written is clear.
- USE APPROPRIATE LANGUAGE. Nothing is more off-putting for someone in a professional setting to read than a piece full of slang and overly-casual language. If you are unsure if what you’re writing is too casual, try looking online for examples of what others have written to use as a guideline of what is appropriate and inappropriate.
- GET SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION. Sometimes it’s best to let another set of eyes look over your work. FIU Writing Center Director Glenn Hutchinson says, “If it’s an important email, letter, or any other document, another person will see things that you might not notice. I always share drafts of important emails with others before hitting that send button!”
- USE THE CORRECT TITLE. Make sure that you address the person you are writing to with the respect and the correct title. Philip Stoddard, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, says “If the recipient is not a close friend, address him or her by the last name preceded by the highest title.” Stoddard adds, “Do not put the person’s title in front of his/her first name (without the last name as well). Adjust for the customs of the country where the communication is being sent.“
- NEVER SEND AN EMAIL WITH A BLANK SUBJECT LINE. It’s very important that you make sure the recipient of your email has an idea of what your email is about before reading it. “Before sending email, write a succinct, informative subject line to email,” says Stoddard. “Never leave it blank if you want to be taken seriously.”
- MAKE SURE ATTACHED FILES ARE LABELED. When you are sending a file attached to your email, make sure it is properly labeled so that the person receiving your email has an idea of what is attached before they see it. Barbra Roller, the assistant dean for Student Affairs and an associate professor of cellular biology and pharmacology, says: “As a professor, I instruct students to label the file ‘Last name, first name, assignment____.’ If I am sending a document to a colleague, then I make sure to put the name of the document and a date as the file name.”
- CREATE AN EMAIL SIGNATURE. It’s highly recommended that you create an email signature that contains all of your contact information. “That way, the receiver knows who you are, what professional position(s) you have, and how to get in contact with you by email or phone,” Roller says.
Hutchinson recommends that students who need assistance writing visit both the Writing Center and the Office of Career Services. Services are free. Learn more at http://writingcenter.fiu.edu/.
– Written by Jack Reid, FIU News intern