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How to Master the Art of the Email

Email overload.Email overload.
Email overload.Illustration: Shout

This piece originally appeared on AllBusiness.com.

Compared to face-to-face communication or even telephone calls, emails are prone to a high rate of miscommunication in the business world. Unfortunately, email also happens to be one of the primary forms of communication among professionals. This sometimes leads to serious issues and confusion that could otherwise be avoided.

While it’s almost always better to have a conversation in person or over the phone, it’s not always practical. Emails are generally quicker and less intrusive. So, if everyone is in agreement that email is a viable form of business communication, then we have to turn our attention towards how we can become better at the art of emailing.

Read more from Fortune: Leaked Emails Suggest Apple’s Work Environment is Sexist

The Dangers of Email Communication

Before delving into some of the ways you can become better at reducing errors and mastering email, let’s briefly look at four of the biggest dangers and risks of email in the workplace to get an idea of just how tricky of a medium it can be.

  • Lost in translation. The number one danger of email communication is a lack of translation. When the recipient doesn’t have the luxury of hearing inflection or watching body expressions, it’s extremely challenging to discern the difference between sarcasm, excitement, and other possible emotions.
  • Filled with errors. When we write emails, we’re often distracted. And when you combine multitasking with small smartphones and tiny screens, the chances of sending emails with typos and errors are incredibly high. This results in unprofessional and misconstrued emails.
  • Delayed decisions. While an email may show up in the recipient’s inbox immediately, this doesn’t mean they’ll open it right away. Emails often don’t get viewed until hours later, which may be too late in some situations.
  • Lost messages. While we’ll never know where they go–emails can and do get lost on occasion. When an email that’s supposed to get sent doesn’t arrive in the recipient’s inbox, sometimes there can be serious consequences

If you’ve been in the business world for a few years, you’ve likely experienced all of these dangers at least once. This simply proves that the need to become better at communicating is an extremely important one in today’s professional landscape.

Tips and Solutions for More Effective Emailing

So, how can we minimize these risks and increase the efficacy of email? Here are a handful of tips:

  • Write a compelling subject line. The subject line of your email is very important. If you want your emails to be opened quicker, then you must be strategic in your approach. One idea is to actually write the subject in a call-to-action format. So instead of using a title like “Johnson Project,” use a subject like “Approve the Johnson Project by 3 pm.”
  • Enable prompts. Every email platform has an option that you can enable that will actually prompt you to review any message before sending. This simple pop-up window can save you a lot of trouble and forces you to quickly review what you wrote.
  • Get to the point. Long-winded emails aren’t very effective. People typically end up scanning emails for the important information anyway, so why not give it to them in a format they want. Start with a very brief intro and then provide bullet points.
  • Be cautious with confidential info. You should always refrain from discussing confidential information in an email–even if you think the email is just between you and the recipient, says Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute. Should the email end up in the wrong hands, you could face serious repercussions.
  • Never email angry. An angry email is so much worse than an angry phone call. The reason is that email is permanent. Once you hit the send button, that email can be shared, printed, and saved indefinitely. If you ever find yourself about to send an emotional email, stand up from your desk, walk down the hall, and come back. Many times, this simple break will force you to reevaluate.
  • Maximize your signature. Your email signature is very important. Lisa Chase Patterson of The Book Bank Foundation says, “One thing I always tell clients is to include all of their contact information in their signature, as well as their title, company name, social media and websites, so that people have access to a total view of them and their company.”

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How to Make Your Business Credit Card Work Harder for Your Business

By following these simple suggestions, you can completely transform your approach to email. These tips won’t completely eliminate risks, but they can certainly help you improve your communication, avoid embarrassing gaffes, and decrease your chances of messing up.