1. Tone. Be careful here. You might think you’re being chatty or witty or charming, but your message might actually come across as flip or silly or crass. Be absolutely certain that your writing conveys the tone you intend by giving your email a second or even a third read-through. Pretend you are a member of your audience—better yet, pretend to be your own worst enemy—as you reread your email. If something seems inadvertently negative, change it. If something could be misinterpreted or misunderstood, fix it. If something is going to put you in the doghouse, correct it. Then and only then can you click “send.”
1a. (Subcategory)—caps lock. Please be sure to turn off the all-caps choice. I’m constantly surprised by the number of folk who don’t seem to realize that that connotes shouting. Unless you intend to yell at your audience, use a proper mix of upper and lowercase. (Side note: if you’re unconvinced by the “shouting” rationale, think of this: People who are dyslexic have a hard time reading all-caps type. Many see it simply as blocks marching across the screen. If a member of your audience is dyslexic, you’ve already disenfranchised that reader by making your message completely inaccessible.)
2. Negative terms. Words like “failed” or “rejected” or “wrong” have their place and can get you to your point very quickly. Keep in mind, however, particularly when those words are used to describe your audience, that they could leave the wrong impression.
Try instead to use positive terms where possible. Instead of “do not get dirty,” try using “stay clean.” Instead of “Don’t forget to water the flowers,” use “Remember to water the flowers.” You’ll note that positive phrases can come across as much more friendly, and they also tend to use fewer words.
3. The word “but.” Readers tend to focus only on the portion of a sentence that comes after “but.” So in a sentence like “Your overall performance has been good but you are often late with time entry,” the reader will overlook the compliment and focus on what was wrong.
You have a couple of options here; one quick and effective one is to simply split the sentence into two, which will give both parts equal weight. “Your overall performance has been good. You are often late with time entry.” If you have the room, it can be helpful to add a suggestion to show that the negative part is easily fixable, such as “Perhaps a daily calendar reminder would be useful.”
As more and more of our business communications become electronic, you’ll do well to observe and try to employ methods that will make your writing as effective as possible. Trust me. While you may never actually hear the words, your audience will thank you for it.