It’s easy to assume that smart, educated people know how to write well. But that assumption isn’t always correct. I was reminded of this recently when I met with a client who was interested in improving the email writing skills of her employees, all of whom are university educated professionals. In order for me to customize the Language Lab’s email writing course for her company, I asked her to send me some samples of typical email messages her employees send to prospective clients. One of them read something like this:
Thank you for returning my message last week, it was good to hear back from you. I want to share with you that we’ve developed a system that optimizes potential client value, something that clients cannot accurately estimate themselves. This puts us ahead of the curve in terms of the process, and because our experience is based on in depth management of these kinds of transactions we are able to offer added value that can really make the difference.
Don’t hesitate to draw on our expertise and let us guide you, if you have any interest. Or contact us if there are questions.”
If I asked you what the above email message was about, would you be able to answer? No, nor can I. It’s filled with vague, confusing, jargon-heavy sentences. It doesn’t address the prospective client’s needs, nor does it provide any tangible information or a real incentive to respond. In other words, it’s a badly written business email message. And it’s likely to be ignored or deleted by its recipient.
Poorly written emails are frustrating to receive. And they also waste a great deal of time — and money. One study estimates that an organization of 100 employees is likely to lose around $450,000 a year because of email mistakes. And a recent article published by the Daily Beast says that the “fuzzy terrible writing we slog through every day at work” is “costing American businesses nearly $400 billion every year.” I’m pretty sure that Canadian businesses suffer a similar loss, proportional to our population.
I think these figures make it very clear why improving workplace writing skills is important. But that conclusion leads to another question: How can you improve your workplace writing skills? One starting point is to follow these tips:
The Language Lab’s Top Five Tips to Improving Business Email Writing Skills
- Call Attention: Use a catchy subject line that will make the recipient more likely to understand what the email is about — and read it.
- Suggest Action: Use action-oriented verbs. For example, rather than asking the reader to “please look at the attached document,” ask your reader to “please review the attached document.” The word “review” implies taking action, rather than taking a passive glance.
- Be Sharp: Keep sentences sharp and short. Avoid semi-colons and conjunctions.
- Be Specific: Avoid the kind of extreme vagueness shown in the email example at the beginning of this blog post. In other words, be specific. (For example, if you want to meet with someone, say so!)
- Call-to-Action: Provide a specific request that prompts your reader to make a specific response, a.k.a. a “call to action.” It may be clicking through a link to a website. It may be responding with specific information, or any number of other possible actions.
As we begin 2017, think about the year ahead, and what you would like to accomplish. If I may make one suggestion to every employer and employee, it is this: Make improving your workplace writing skills a New Year’s resolution that you will keep! Without doubt, it is a resolution that will pay off, and one that you will never regret keeping.
For more information on how to improve workplace writing skills, contact me at The Language Lab. [LINK: http://www.thelanguagelab.ca/contact-us/]