Interview on Writing Effective Emails with MicroAssist Instructor Scott Allen



Scott Allen


Today we are interviewing Scott Allen.  Scott teaches one of our Lunchtime Seminar Sessions "Writing Effective Emails.  In addition, Scott teaches many of our Web and database classes at MicroAssist, including Dreamweaver, Access, SQL and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).  He is the coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online and a contributing author to several other books on technology and entrepreneurship. Today we are going to talk to Scott about Writing Effective Emails.  Welcome Scott. 

Scott Allen
Thank you.  During this interview I'll reference two books at some point.  They are:
The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online, David Teten and Scott Allen, AMACOM, 2005 and  SEND: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, Knopf, 2007.

Thanks Scott.  Most of the people who take our classes don't know that you are a published author and an acknowledged expert in the area of electronic communication. Email has become such an important part of business communication.  What are some of the problems that you see when people email?

Scott Allen:
Certainly one problem is simply poor writing skills, bad grammar, and so on. But that's not fixable in a few hours. The stuff I like to help people with are those things that can be solved simply by awareness and changing some basic habits. For example: who you put in the To: line vs. the Cc: line vs. the Bcc: line really does matter. The To: line should only include people who are expected to act on the e-mail (and should include everyone who's expected to act on it).   Subject lines are another common problem. There is such a thing as too short and too long.  And they should help the recipient in organizing their communication. Also, a lot of people forget to change the subject line needs to change when the subject changes. This is extremely important.

Regarding message content itself... There is such a thing as too short and too long. Many people, especially busy managers and executives, tend to make the e-mail too short. They fail to provide enough information for the recipient to act on it.  They think they're saving time, but the inevitable back-and-forth for clarification, or worse, the correction of the errors the recipient makes because of making an incorrect assumption, costs far more time in the long run than spending an extra minute to be clear in the first place.

On the flip side, many messages are too long. Long prose is fine if you're talking about emotions and feelings, or having a philosophical discussion.  But most business communication is about action items. If a message contains more than one or two action items, it needs to be organized into a list, preferably a numbered one, not just bullet points.

One of my pet peeves is Subject Lines that have nothing to do with the email.  I've gotten emails with the subjects like "Stuff."  One of the things I've learned is that you can edit the subject line and resave the message quite easily in Outlook.