In this episode, Engy Moussa (University of Cambridge) and Anthony Haynes (Creative Director, Frontinus Ltd) discuss how to write emails.
They focus on how to anticipate typical pitfalls in order to enhance communicativeness.
The links, both to (a) the slide deck on practical advice and (b) further practical resources, are available here: https://writeyourresearch.wordpress.com/email-writing-and-management/.
About the publisher
This episode is published by Frontinus Ltd. We're a communications consultancy that helps organisations and individuals to communicate scientific, professional, and technical content to non-specialist audiences.
and work on presentations, bids and proposals, and publications (for example, reports and papers).
To learn more about services or explore ways of working together, please contact us via our website, http://frontinus.org.uk/.
Good day to you all and a warm welcome to the Gray LED Cafe podcast. Brought to you by Font Limited. Front is a communications consultancy focused on engineering, infrastructure, sustainability, and research. With you today is NG Musa, political scientist and teaching associate at Cambridge University, and I'm very pleased to be accompanied by Mr. Anthony Hayes, creative director of France in this edition of our podcast, which focuses on writing, emails, greeting Mr. AnthonySpeaker 2:
So for today's episode, we decided to do something a bit different as we have both prepared, our three main tips on how to write effective emails. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>, and the plan is to share them with you in a reverse order. So starting with bronze, then moving to silver and gold. So Mr. Anthony, what is your bronze tip for us today?Speaker 2:
I think I'd encapsulated in the phrase consider your audience. And what I mean by that is most of the time when we're about to communicate something in writing, we think about what's in our head and what we want to say and what our message is and all the rest of it. And usually it's better to start by thinking about who am I communicating with? What do they know already? What do they not know? What kind of things will they understand or struggle to understand? What kind of things are of interest to them? What's in it for them? So think about the audience first, and there's a, that's a general point. I think there's a more specific point lurking behind that, which is think about what they think email is. Because emails are relatively recent phenomenon and there isn't really widespread agreement about what kind of genre, uh, we're dealing with. If you think of a spectrum at one end, there are people who think of emails rather like business letters as you know, quite quite formal bits of writing with well developed syntax and, uh, correct grammar and spelling and so on. And then there are other people who think of email more like text messaging or something sort of informal and very cut down. And if you have different views of email, this causes a problem. I mean, I'm, I'm quite traditional. I tend to think of emails a bit like a business letter. And if I get an email from someone I don't know, and it feels like a text message, actually I don't like it. I, I feel a bit affronted by it. So that's a long-winded way of saying give consideration to your audience before you write the email.Speaker 1:
Okay. Excellent. And there is, if I may, there is any way to know that in advance or you think like you should just aim for a middle ground then? Well,Speaker 2:
Often you do know actually it's just, it's just a question of remembering, you know, what thinking like what do I know about this person? Um, but if you don't, you can usually have a guess. I mean, you usually have some idea of the kind of person you're writing to, even if you've never met them before. And what about you? What's your bronze idea?Speaker 1:
So my bronze one is simply to, uh, make your email easy to read. So we remember all also the main objective is to make the email as accessible to the reader as possible, right? Yep. So that in terms of easy to read, one of them is it looks inviting. So use short sentences, short paragraphs. The whole email really has to be as short as possible, but also try to help the reader get to the important bits quickly by using highlights underlying but also bold option to direct the reader's attention to what you want them to focus on. Uh, be it a date, a location, or even a task you wish them to follow through with. Um, and adding to that as well, the use of easy language, right? So we are not writing a dictionary entry really<laugh>. So we have to opt for something that's um, like simple structure, easy language. And by that I don't mean for you to be informal. So we have to kind of maintain a proper language in, in our emails, but still, it doesn't have to be complex enough. Even if you have, you are writing to an academic, they are reading enough academic papers, they don't want a further one in in shape of an email, right? So again, the point is to make your reader invest as less effort as possible in going through your email read. So, so they can actually get to the point that you want them, uh, to kinda focus on as quickly and as easily as possible. Excellent. Silver, what about your solar professor?Speaker 2:
Well, it, it strikes me that although we haven't particularly planned it this way, I think our points are sort of following on one from another informing a bit of a story because I think my next point follows on from yours. Um, the phrase I would use to encapsulate my silver point is to say try to chunk information. And what I mean by that is we want to avoid great big screeds of information that's very off-putting. And so we want to break it down into more digestible components. And really there are, I think two ways of doing this within an email. I would urge anyone to keep paragraphs very short. And this means unlearning what you learned in school or unlearning what you learned in composition class when you are a student in college. Um, p paragraphing, an email is different from paragraphing, let's say an essay or a dissertation or whatever. Um, on screen we tend not to actually read through a paragraph of any length. We tend to focus on the first line or two. So my advice for paragraphing is to say try writing single sentence paragraphs. And sometimes you write a single sentence paragraph and think, no, actually I need a second sentence. Well maybe, maybe allow yourself a second sentence, but don't allow yourself a third sentence because then you'll lend up the paragraph which is longer than people are willing to read. So within emails I would chunk the information by keeping the paragraph short. So visually it looks like there's lots of white space, lots of space around the paragraphs and they look inviting. The other way of chunking information is between emails by differentiating things. So if you've got two topics to broach as someone consider writing two emails, either more or less simultaneously or perhaps send one, get a response, then send the other. And the advantage of this is the amount you have to put in each email is less. It's much more focused and you can give a precise title for each of the emails so that when people open the email they know what to expect. And when they're filing an email and they want to then search and retrieve the specific accurate title helps'em to do that. Whereas if you're covering more than one topic in one email, actually you're gonna end up with a fuzzier title. So that's my silver point is chunk the information into digestible amounts.Speaker 1:
I think for the benefit of the sender, that will ensure to some extent that they will get a quick reply to at least one of these kind of different topics. Cause usually when people open their emails and there are like few different topics in, in one email, they're like, okay, I'm okay with number one, number two, but I still need time on number three. So they do not reply at all to your email because one of the issues that you have raised are still hanging. So definitely kind of, I think, um, your point is quite excellent in the sense that it'll ease that pressure on the sender in terms of getting replies as well.Speaker 2:
Yes. And they feel good if they're ticking things off a to-do list. You know, Lyle, I've got 15 emails to answer and that one's done tick. So they feel good too. Yes. And what about you? So what's, what's your silver point?Speaker 1:
I think like, it's quite nice because now we are going to circle back. So I'm actually echoing, uh, some part of what you said in, uh, in your first point regarding, um, knowing your audience. So my point here is kind of be mindful of your recipient, whoever's gonna receive your email in general, but even more so when you want actually something from them, right? So as a general rule, we need really to be polite in the way we write our emails and address our recipients in general. However, we also need to remember that it's very likely that your email is not necessarily coming at the right moment for whoever you are gonna send it to, right? They might be very busy or not in a very good mood. So the last thing they would want at that, at that moment is to be upset by your email, whether by not giving them their due respect or by not being professional enough in how you write it. Yeah. So we need to be very mindful on this and building on that as well, we need to be mindful of our, in kind of me making reasonable requests to our recipients. Yes. So this means making your request again in a polite way, but also appreciating the other person's responsibility, acknowledging their time, and really thanking them in advance for their effort and assistant to you. Yes. Yes. All of this really makes a big difference in, in, again, for me as a, as one who's sending email, my point is to get a positive response as quick as possible. And I think being polite and mindful and reasonable and your request quite help in getting that positive outcome.Speaker 2:
Yes. And I can say, although I probably don't ever reply to your emails as soon as you'd wish, I I I can assure you I do it much more quickly than I do with most people.<laugh>, so it works for me.<laugh>,Speaker 1:
Both. So what is your stop tip to give us today, professor?Speaker 2:
Well, in a way it's actually an extension of the chunking idea. I, I think what we want to avoid is, you know, someone opens your email and there's this great big block of text on the page and they think, I don't wanna read all that. So I'm trying to avoid that. And so this is a, a a different way of doing that from the ones I've mentioned. Um, I would use an email for really quite brief messages. What do I mean by brief? I mean what I try to do, I don't stick to this religiously, but what I try to do in my email is start with a greeting and then have three paragraphs and then a sign off. So that's really quite a brief text. Now if I wanna give people some detail on the topic, the way I'll do that is put the detail into an attachment or put it on the internet on say a Google document and put a link in the email to that document. So this is actually a very well known if people have worked in sales, they will know this as a traditional sales technique that you send a letter and uh, the cover letter is invitingly brief and then it will say something like, further details are attached, uh, and you go to a second document where you get the specification and so on. Um, and so as I say, it's a traditional sales technique and I find it works well and I find it translates to email well.Speaker 1:
Yeah, excellent. I think one of the reasons maybe people are afraid to take that approach is that they fear that people will not open the attachment. However, going to where you started is when actually the email is too long, people don't even read it. Yeah. So it's kind of, you, you better take the risk of putting an attachment rather than Yeah. Risking not the email, you email not to be read at all. So I think people need to take to be a bit bold in this and actually take kind of trusted that the readers will indeed look at attachment and uh, yes. And take it seriously.Speaker 2:
Uh, yes, and I do, I do recognize the problem you're mentioning. Um, I would say two things. One is to send them a link to an online document and I find myself using that increasingly actually. And then, uh, the other thing I'd say is, well there is, there is no perfect way of doing this. I mean, yes, it is true that if you send an attachment, there's a risk with that, but there's also a risk of not doing that and just sending them a really long email and it's a balance of risk for me. And what about you? Well, our final point, your is your goal point.Speaker 1:
So my goal point, it's to me sounds kind of basic. Um, however, we tend to overlook at almost all words, which is proofreading, um,<affirmative>. And that can start by primarily proofreading your text, making sure that all the names, dates are accurate, no spelling mistakes. And I personally find this makes a huge difference and huge impact on the, on the recipient because it shows how professional you are, but also how much care you have actually put in writing this email, especially if you're sending it to someone who's seniors to you in age, or yes, it shows like you weren't actually writing that email while running to catch a train or, uh, busy on your phone doing something else. Even so you want your recipient to feel that you really appreciate the time that they are spending reading your email. And that starts with how correctly written your email is. And also building on, on the simple proofreading kind of techniques is also check who you are sending, um, that email to right check<laugh> to the right email address, but also from the right email address, right? Yes. Because many of us have different, um, accounts, whether personal or for different jobs maybe. So making sure that you're sending it from the right account, uh, ensure that the recipient will read it in a reasonable time because otherwise they might actually find another name that appear at their end and they don't recognize it and you email is put to the side. And the same thing also for you kind of sending it to the right email. It's quite important to ensure that, especially if you're sending something that's quite important and you read an urgent reply sometime we send it kind of, we are in hurry, we send it to the wrong address and we can just yes, waiting and waiting and waiting. And we are, it's very urgent and it's your mistake because you haven't sent it to the right address. So yes, in just few seconds looking at your text, looking at who you are sending it to from which, uh, address makes a huge difference.Speaker 2:
Yes. I mean I've seen in my own experience, but<laugh> really bad examples, both, um, perpetrated by me sending an email to the wrong person, but also me receiving an email that wasn't meant for me. And it can be comical, but it can actually be caused quite serious problems and it can cause a offense.Speaker 1:
Yeah, definitely. Okay. So any sources you would suggest us to look at, uh, to further enrich our kind of tips, uh, back in that respect?Speaker 2:
Well, uh, we put together a little while ago, we put together, um, some practical resources in the form of a SlideShare on writing emails. And we also collated lots of links to, uh, good advice that's available online and that's available on a website called Write Your Research. So what I'll do is I'll put the link into the show notes.Speaker 1:
Excellent. Excellent. Thank you so much Mr. Anthony for your time and for sharing such great gifts today with us. It's been a pleasure. Thank you, Angie. Thank you all for listening. This has been Ji Musa with Anthony Haynes. Gray Lit Cafe is edited by Dr. Bart Hallmark and produced by front Limited front specializes in gray literature forms such as proposals, publications, papers, and reports. The music is from Handel's Water Music courtesy of the United States Marine Band and Marine Chamber Orchestra. See you next time. Bye.