I looooove using email. I work with clients and colleagues in three time zones and five offices (not to mention a few remote offices), and it’s very easy to get in the habit of dropping an email rather than find a common time to pick up the phone with a busy colleague.

ytknick_Email

But as we all know, emails don’t have the benefit of body language or tone of voice. And if you’re reading and/or composing emails (or Skypes/IMs, for that matter) in haste, your message isn’t always as clear as you think it is. (Hint: formatting helps a lot.)

The result? Lengthy back-and-forth exchanges that stretch over days; misunderstandings (sometimes costly); even, occasionally, raised dander. And just about all of it is avoidable, even if you can’t find the time to clear things up with a phone call or, better yet, an in-person meeting.

Here, without further ado, are 15 tips to improve your communication with clients, teammates, partners, your mom – pretty much everyone.

Tips on etiquette and process

1. The more important the email or note you’re replying to, the more closely (and more often) you should read before replying.

2. If a client or partner doesn’t understand your original email, ask a colleague to read it to see where the confusion might have come from.

3. If there are two or more questions posed to you, make sure to answer every single one of them, not just the first one.

4. Emails should always start with a greeting and end with a signoff to avoid looking curt.

5. Try to avoid writing or replying to emails when you’re feeling rushed for time or doing three things at once.

6. When you’re answering a question, try to figure out why it was asked before you respond – and be as thorough as possible in your response.

7. If you’re responding to a communication that upset you, ask a colleague to read your response before you send it.

Tips on readability

8. Start with the most important items.

9. Use bullets, lists, and/or very short paragraphs.

10. Include an extra line space between paragraphs (do not indent).

11. Bold key phrases.

12. Clearly identify action items, due dates, and action owners so the email doesn’t just sit there, twiddling its thumbs.

Tips on avoiding those “nooooooooo” moments

13. Be extremely careful to review or delete an email chain when you add new people, especially clients, to an email chain. (Remember that in Gmail, recipients can read the entire history of a chain.)

14. Set “Undo Send” for 30 seconds – the maximum time allowed (note that you may have to go to the “Labs” tab and enable the feature first). Make sure to save this change!

undo send gmail

Tips on…English

15. Respect the English language! Here are my favorite ways to learn about semicolons, apostrophes, and misspellings.

Good luck!

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Hillary Read
Hillary Read joined 3Q Digital in August 2011 after over 5 years of e-commerce site and product management at ivgStores, LLC, and Mercantila, Inc. Prior to 3Q, Hillary was a sportswriter for the Burlington (VT) Free Press and a sports copy editor for the Boston Globe. She graduated from Harvard with a degree in English; she has also spent time in New Mexico as an artist-in-residence (fiction writing) at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, NM. She is a sports zealot and has a working knowledge of French.