CTS – Your Technology Partner

Email Etiquette: Helping Them, Help You

Written by Ryan Kelly on March 31, 2016

Puzzled man using his mobile phone

In this blog, I will discuss my personal pro-tips that can facilitate technical communication with both technical & non-technical audiences. While the following six steps are recommendations for corporate communication, the reader may find some aspects that can be used in personal & social outlets as well. Using these recommendations can allow for more effective communications. In turn, your audience can then give you feedback quickly & painlessly. This may mean more time is spent on the original email, but is still more effective than 10 replies (or the dreaded 10 reply-all’s) asking for more information.

1. Useful Subjects

Please consider (and be considerate to others by) having more detail in your subjects. There are so many benefits for not using a generic subject, such as “Defect Found”.  When contemplating your next email subject, please keep in mind the following suggestions:

  • Keep your subject succinct by removing unneeded words (e.g., adjectives, prepositions)
  • Have the client or project name somewhere in the email.

The format I use looks like this:

Client: _____ Project: _____Email Subject: _____
Example- IBM: Data Warehousing: ETL Issue

Benefits of a robust email subject include:

  • Consideration for your audience. Managers & other team members (as well as clients & yourself) may have multiple projects with similar issues. More detail in the subject may prevent a reply asking the sender for more information.  By showing your client & project name, a busy team member can quickly determine if they should immediately review or wait for a better time. Most of your audience will view it on portable devices.  Adding detail and removing superfluous words can make better use of small screens.
  • Better organization and search function (for the receiver and for others organizing email for the receiver).

2. Salutations & Sign offs

Addressing your audience or audience member is imperative. If you want feedback from a certain group, be sure to address them in the salutations.

Examples:

  • Good morning CTS Team,
  • Salutations Robert,
  • Dear IBM QA Team,

I’ve seen multiple incidences where time was wasted because the intended recipient of an email never replied. The reason was they did not know the email was meant for them.

In addition to specifying the audience, I believe adding a greeting can help start a conversation positively. Personally, I think we can always afford the time to type a ”Good morning”, “Hello”, or maybe “Hi”.  I try to avoid “Hey.”  The reason I’d never use “Hey” as a greeting in an email, is because “hey” can also be used to negatively get someone’s attention.

Examples:

“Hey, you’re in my way!!”
“Hey, your shoe is untied!!”

When asking your audience questions, please be aware of the fact that this may not be their #1 priority. Ask them politely for a moment of their time before giving them a list of your demands. You shouldn’t just walk up to anyone & start telling them project issues without asking them if they have a moment for a discussion.

Finally, end with something similar to any of the sign-offs below. When trying to “help them, help you”, it’s good to build a sincere rapport that acknowledges a person’s (or group’s) time and effort they have contributed (or will in the future).

  • Thank you,
  • Thanks in advance,
  • Thank you for time and help, Nataly.
  • Regards,
  • Thanks again, Earl!

3. Paragraphs & Bullets

Keep in mind, mobile devices use less real estate than you may be typing your email on. Frequently inserting double paragraph breaks allows your audience on mobile devices to read more effectively. It even helps readers on aforementioned monitors. It’s not “helping them, help you”, if you send an urgent email with little to no double paragraph breaks and the recipient can’t reply because it’s too difficult to read.

If you have a list of items or questions, use bullet points or numbers.  It is better to use a numbered list for anything over 5 or 6 items, because it’s easier for team members to gauge & point out by numbers.  For lists larger than 15, use a spreadsheet. By having lists, you allow others to be able to leave feedback with minimal work.  The recipient should leave feedback in another font color.

Example:

section3.example.blog.email

 

4. Screenshots

A picture is worth a thousand words, but with just a bit of work they can be even more effective than they already are. Using a screen shot capture (I used the Windows provided “Snipping Tool”) is the first step of presenting a visual representation via email.

Next, use a simple photo editor (Paint) to crop, highlight, and outline only the important parts you want your audience to focus on.

Pro-tips:

  • Highlight all pertinent subjects
  • Use bright colors when outlining or highlighting
  • Only screenshot relevant data (i.e., move windows or data around before screenshotting)
  • Send the pertinent data for the viewer to reproduce (e.g., GUIDS, IDs, or Queries)

Here is an example:

section4.blog.email

6. Links & Attachments

Hand-in-hand with “Helping Them, Help You” comes the use of helpful links & attachments. Everybody can benefit from intern to CEO by adding useful links. If you are sending out emails, meeting requests, & re-occurring meetings that need the viewer to go to a location, be considerate and add the link. If you are hoping to get quicker feedback, make it easier for the person to do what you need them to do. Useful links include:

  • URLs
  • Remote desktop names, TFS names
  • IP Addresses
  • CMD lines
  • Server Names, Table Names, etc
  • GUIDs, Method Names

When sending attachments, do not zip if you want the audience to view the files on a mobile device. When sending scripts or code, the text should be pasted in where the viewer can select all, copy, paste, and execute to produce what sender intended (as much as possible). This means comments should be present, references should be correct, & only pertinent data is shown. An example of only displaying pertinent data is to not show all 34 columns if your email describes conflicts with addresses for two companies.

6. Consolidation

As you construct an email, keep in mind grouping & consolidation. Questions should always be grouped, and you can use bullets or numbering to facilitate grouping.  If you have only one question, make it stand out as a stand-alone paragraph. It’s good to begin your email with facts and then add your questions.

Keeping in mind the “helping them, help you” mindset, it’s possible (but not always prudent) to add questions related to your initial question.

Example:

  • If the user enters data wrong, would you prefer a pop-up or the field highlighted in red?
    • If a pop-up, what should the message say?
    • When leaving the pop-up, should the data in the field be removed or left?

Consolidating questions helps consolidate answers. Ask your audience if they can reply in line with a different font color. This helps with 2 things:

  • It’s easier for them and you to see if they answered all of your questions.
  • It keeps questions and answers together and easier to find later if needed.

section6.example.blog.email

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