The failings of email are, ironically enough, identical to its virtues. Its fast. Unlike a real on-paper letter, its easy to compose and send an email within minutes. That sort of speed comes at a price. We often type faster than we can think.
Thats no big deal when writing an email to a family member or friend. But nowadays emails are often used for more formal occasions substituting for an old-fashioned letter on paper. When you write an email like that applying for a job, complaining to a company about an overcharge or some other problem, both the tone and the construction of the email must change.
For today, well talk about crafting a formal email in a way that will move some freight.
The tone ought to be neutral and formal. If, for instance, youre writing a business to resolve a problem with its products, the email shouldnt sound as if youre asking a buddy for a favor. Nor should it, as some emails do, start with an insult or a threat. Its fine to be sure of yourself, its no problem if you need to be firm, but you can do that without screaming insults.
The next mistake comes from the fact that all of us write a lot of chatty emails. And weve gotten into the habit of typing quickly, ignoring misspelled words and grammar, using sentence fragments and generally writing notes that get so confusing a person may have to read through them a couple of times to figure out whats being said.
But those bad habits can carry over to times when you are writing a formal email. In many cases a formal email is being sent to someone who doesnt know you, has no idea if youre a nut case or an idiot. A poorly constructed email is the only way they have of judging you. So even if you need editing help from a spouse of a friend make sure that your email would make your eighth-grade English teacher proud.
When it isnt possible to get editing help, theres a handy little trick used by most folks who write for a living. It may let you do a decent job as your own editor. Do your best to write a clear and letter-perfect email to start. Then, instead of sending it, save it as a draft. In most email programs, if you try to close an email without sending it youll be asked if you want to save it as a draft. Do that.
Let the email sit for a while if you can spare the time, leave it alone and unread for a day or so. If you dont have that much time, let a few hours pass. Then read it cold. Mistakes that you may have missed earlier will jump out at you. This also is a good time to check the tone of the email. It should sound as formal and correct and polite as an old-fashioned letter.
Once youve done your best with the email, then run it through spell check. Some email programs have that ability and almost all major word-processing programs do. One of the best Ive seen comes as part of Microsoft Word. If you have that program just copy and paste the email you are writing into a blank Word document.
That same program will also flag sentence fragments and some grammar problems.
Nowadays the world works by email. Thats why its important that your emails work.
Bill Husted writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.