Tips for teleworkers: How to write better e-mail messages

Telework gives e-mail a new importance

A federal manager’s ability to write clear and concise e-mail messages takes on a new level of importance when he or she chooses to telework. In most instances, managers will rely on e-mail to convey the bulk of information to their employees, which leaves little room for messages that are confusing, unfocused or, worse, offensive.

The following tips — courtesy of the Corporate Executive Board — will help make sure your communications are professional whether you work in or outside the office.

1. Compose a subject line that conveys the content and urgency of your message. Examples include “Action Required: Project Plans” and “Request for a Decision: Executive Committee Meeting.”

2. In replying to or forwarding a message, change the subject line to reflect a changed subject, if appropriate.

3 .Be concise in your responses, though not unnecessarily brief. Respond with sufficient information for the recipient to understand you.

4. Focus on only one topic in each message. Keep messages clear, brief, and easy to file and retrieve.

5. Be professional. Even though e-mail is relatively informal, it still requires thought and organization. Ask yourself: What do I want to say? What do I intend the message to accomplish? What action or reaction do I want?

6. Avoid sending too many for-your-information messages that require no action on the part of the recipient.

7. Follow any important message that might evoke emotion or misunderstanding with a telephone call. You might not be fully aware of the impact of the message unless you speak with and listen to the recipients.

8. Don’t shout. Be mindful that your readers might feel they are being yelled at if you send a message typed in all capital letters.

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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 CJ

As a recipient, always remember that e-mail skews peceived emotional content negatively. Many people still assume that the sender is angry if the message is brief (i.e. terse). Give 'em the benefit of the doubt - presume NO emotional content was intended.

Fri, Apr 22, 2011

Wait - the article completely fails to state the proper role of emoticons in emails! :-) These often can help achieve the goals noted in 7 above. Rather than having to follow up with a phone call, a handy emoticon can convey the proper emotion. This saves time and is much more efficient.

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 Steve Baltimore

Be careful about changing the existing subject line when forwarding or responding to email. Many email systems maintain meta information such as “subject” in header data that’s usually not viewed by users. If you change the subject line, these fields remain unchanged, and the inconsistency might cause your recipients problems such as when sorting their inbox by “Subject”. Better to start a new correspondence thread with the new subject.

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 Russ Rhode Island

...And never email angry :-) I have composed emails then sat on them for an hour or up to a day. When I've gone back to them, I'll either edit it down or delete it entirely.

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