Action Item - The Write Stuff

A short course on writing effective emails.

Many people treat electronic discourse like a memo to themselves, making the average email exchange a mishmash of abbreviations, misspellings, and incomplete sentences. Deborah Dumaine, a corporate writing coach and author of Vest-Pocket Guide to Business Writing (Prentice Hall, 1997), points out that tossing off an email isn't the same as getting across a message. Before you push that "Send" button, consult Dumaine's short course on writing email that gets results.

Put the "bottom line" in the subject line. If the subject line says, "Are you free for lunch on Friday," but the real agenda is "We want you to meet the CEO," your recipient might delay in opening the message and miss out on the meeting. To grab your reader's attention, think about your real message, and put it in the subject line.

Cover one topic per email. Because you can summarize just one message in an email header, there's a very good chance that your reader will miss a second message. If you have several points to convey, email them separately, so the reader can take action on each one and then delete it.

Deadlines need headlines. If you want action, make your request easy to understand by preceding it with an attention-getting label. A simple "Action Requested" usually does the trick.

Deliver the most vital information in the lead. Write an email as a reporter writes a newspaper article - deliver the news in the opening paragraph. Trouble is, when we write our minds work like history books: we want to begin at the beginning and end with the fall of Rome. But that's the big news - Rome fell - and that's what you should lead with.

Coordinates: Dumaine's Better Communications Inc., based in Lexington, Massachusetts, upgrades the writing skills of 5,000 people each year. 617-862-3800; http://www.bettercom.com

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