29 May 2012 by Jamie Cwalinski
Well this one had me SMH (shaking my head)…
A metro Atlanta elementary school is catching some heat for a recent edict barring students from writing abbreviations in each other’s yearbooks.
While I can’t imagine my classmates not being able to say in a few letters how much they hoped I would HAGS (have a great summer), or tell fellow female classmates that they adored them not only as friends, but that they LYLAS (love you like a sister), is it so bad to actually have to use words? Has the need-it-now, shorten-for-text world made us lose touch with how to write to others?
Will these same children go ROTF (rolling on the floor) for their right to say it all by saying next to nothing look back at these yearbooks and have any clue what their friends said, or why what was said was so important?
For PR and marketing professionals, the closest we’ll get to the madness of yearbook day is the blank canvas that is the email template. We send and receive what feels like thousands of emails daily – each with varying tones, messages and desired response. And much like the teachers at the aforementioned school likely aiming for (though maybe not delivered as well as possible), it is important to be as clear, concise and flexible as possible to ensure your message resonates with whomever you send it to without confusion.
As Ragan.com’s Jacqueline Whitmore recently spelled out, the text blitz has left some of us in need of a refresher on the elements of a good old-fashioned email. While you certainly won’t tell a client you’ll TTYL (talk to you later), it is still just as important today as it was when you were signing yearbooks to avoid misusing email from its role as an essential business tool and ensure seamless communication.
Much as you thought long and hard about the words to put on your classmate’s inside cover, consider a few of Whitmore’s tips next time you sit at the keyboard, and prevent your readers from going “OMG!”:
- Sell with a Strong Subject: In a busy workday, it can be hard to decipher what emails are most relevant to read and respond to. That’s why it is essential to keep your subject line brief, specific and relevant. The vaguer your subject line is, the more likely it is that it won’t get read, or may be accidentally deleted – especially if you are writing to a new colleague, journalist or third-party who may not know who you are from the email address alone.Consider asking a question in the subject line, and use dates and times when possible – if your coworker for instance sees “Meeting with Acme Inc. on Tuesday?” or even “Lunch today?” up front, it is easy to pick up the essentials of the email without having to stop and read several graphs.Additionally, for urgent matters, adding the red “Urgent” exclamation point to your message may not resonate as well as typing “Urgent”, or something more specific such as “Feedback Needed Today,” in your subject.
- Keep it Short and Sweet: We all remember that one yearbook signer who could take up an entire page recapping every day of every class you had together in a given year. Much as you tired of reading this essay back then, remember that your peers do not have time today to read an endless email.Try to keep the body of your email to a few lines and put the most critical details up front. It is important to remember that many of your recipients will likely first view your email on a mobile device – as a result, make sure that the essence of your email is what is visible on a smart phone screen without the reader needing to scroll down.While emails to more formal audiences may require more background information and, as a result, length, that does not mean your word choice has to stretch. We’re all guilty of trying to sound smart by breaking out big words and adding extra lines in client and executive emails. Ultimately, “Can we schedule a call for Tuesday” is just as efficient as and less exhausting than “We would like to ask for your presence to discuss our upcoming venture during a phone conversation this Tuesday.”
- Reply to Some, Not All: Sending one email to multiple relevant parties is effective to update as many people with as little work as possible. However, most of these emails are only crucial to a few of those copied. When replying to a group email, only select those recipients who require a response – in many cases, this is only the original sender. This will cut back on the amount of irrelevant email you receive, as well as the amount of irrelevant email you tack on others.Being strategic with “reply all” can also prevent potentially uncomfortable damage control. We’ve all heard horror stories of colleagues who have crafted emails outlining how bad a client’s idea is or how difficult a client is to work with – only to copy that client on a “reply all.” Taking a few seconds to double-check who you are sending to can save you from a lengthier headache.
- Don’t be a Pest: We like to think that every email we send is the most important thing the person on the other end will read on a given day, and with that, we expect a swift response. While it can become frustrating waiting for a reply, especially on time-sensitive matters, overloading with follow-up and reminder emails will only portray you as pushy and impatient. It may be that the person on the other end is out of the office and not checking emails at the moment, is catching up on emails after a meeting or that your email is caught in a spam filter.Regardless of the situation, there are more tactful approaches than asking “Where are You?” in times of silence. Craft your response to highlight why you need them to get back to you quickly – for instance, on a creative matter, you can mention that you have the art director reserved to work on your project tomorrow and want to make sure that everything stays on schedule.
If the quiet is killing you that much, perhaps a phone call is a better route than watching your inbox.
Whether you are a PR and marketing professional cleaning out your inbox, or a middle-schooler wishing friends well at the end of the school year, the goal remains the same – to convey a clear, impactful message in as few words as possible that the person on the other end understands and responds favorably to. The recent abbreviations battle only reflects how keeping a few basic principles in mind – in the “adult yearbook” that is the email box – can ensure that both you and your most vital audiences get the message without confusion.
Or should I say, make sure your audiences wish to CUL8R.