How To Write a Great Work Email

Be Brief.  Be Great.  Be Gone!

Have you ever heard of anyone complain about how their inbox is stuffed with so many emails, that they are going to delete everything before a certain date just to get it under control?

In today’s society, it is so easy to send electronic communication…but how do you make sure your message gets across, or even gets read?

Now, think about the leader of an organization.  How many emails do you think they get in a day?  200? 300? 500?  Guess what, many of those emails are not getting read.

Today, I am going to share a simple strategy that will ensure your email has the best chance of getting read now and in the future – and as a result, YOU become an expert influencer.

Become an Expert Influencer

Be Brief.  Be Great.  Be Gone.  What?

How can this short phrase turn me into an expert influencer?  I am going to start with my brief history – I graduated with High Honors from an accredited university and a degree in Chemical Engineering.  That got me my first job in the food industry as a product developer.  In my first few years, I prided myself on my communication – built from a strong technical reporting background based on the scientific method (you know, describe your hypothesis, your test methodology, share results, share conclusions).

I was a documentation superstar (literally, I won an award)!  But do you know what I found out?  My business partners, and more importantly, my leaders, didn’t want to read the novels I was sending via email – so THEY DIDN’T GET MY MESSAGE.  I needed to streamline my style – and that’s when I discovered the power of Strategic Communication.

The godfather of this communication style is a man named Bill Wallisch, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force (follow him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/dr-bill-wallisch-2a49079 or check out his website www.yourmainpoint.com).  I am not going to dive into his content, but suffice it to say that he developed the pillars of this style out of necessity, as succinct, directive, and to the point communications could meant the difference between life and death in military actions.

I will, however, highlight these communication pillars to improve your effectiveness and influence, by summarizing the strategy in these six words: Be Brief. Be Great. Be Gone.  (And to give credit where credit is due – I first heard this ingenious summary from a former professional football player, now radio show host, in Wisconsin, Mark Tauscher, as he described the ideal caller.)

Let’s describe each statement as a strategy pillar, and take them one-by-one.

Be Brief.

As I said in the intro, who has time to wade through 500 emails?  Make sure that your main point, your key message, is apparent in the first 2 lines of your email.  If the reader doesn’t have time to get to anything else, at least he/she now knows what message you were trying to convey.  See the below example, where Gina is the VP of R&D at a major food manufacturer, and I am telling her about some recent testing.

(1)    “Hi Gina – How are you?  Did you have a good weekend?  I wanted to give you an update on the recent test we ran at the manufacturing plant in Albuquerque, NM, to assess the impact of increasing cook time on the product. Consumers told us that the product didn’t taste the same as they remember from their childhood, and as you are aware, we have increased cooker throughput over the last 5 years to improve our manufacturing efficiency and thus drop our cost per pound of product.“

(2)    “Hi Gina – We recently completed a successful cooker test run at the Albuquerque, NM plant, and are on track to deliver the required 2,000 lbs of product for the consumer test scheduled to begin next week.”

If Gina has 500 emails to go through, will she be able to find the key information she needed in #1 without devoting a minute or more to scanning the whole note, and probably needing to scroll down?  In #2, Gina has gotten the clear message she needed in less than  15 seconds.  In old newspaper language, keep your main message “above the fold.”

Be Great.

OK, so the first pillar is about getting your message across quickly and concisely.  This pillar is about elevating your messaging style to match the needs of your audience.  Who are you trying to communicate to?  A peer, a cross-functional business partner, a Vice President?  Tailor the style and content of your message appropriately to fit the needs of your “highest ranking” audience member.

Do this by adding 2-3 supporting points to your key message, in bullet form – this is much easier to read than a long, run-on sentence.  Make sure you understand the depth of knowledge of your audience – do they need background in the supporting points?  Again, focus on being brief.

“Hi Gina –

Last week, we completed a successful cooker test at the Albuquerque, NM plant.

  • Objective: Modify times and temperatures to adjust the cook profile of the product
  • Result:  Produced 2000 lbs of product for consumer testing
  • On track to deliver product for consumer test, scheduled to field next week”

Magical!  Easy to read, to the point, no extraneous information.  If more detail is necessary for other people on the email, you have 2 choices:

(1)    Add a line stating that for more detail, give me a call at the following phone number: xxx-xxx-xxx, or contact me and I can forward you the full test report.

(2)    If you really feel like you  need to include the additional detail in this email, make it clear that the main content has ended, by adding a summary line that states: If you would like more detail, the full report is attached.  OR…If you would like to know more, specific details are included below the line.  Then literally put in a line to illustrate a content break!

Be Gone!

This pillar is pretty easy, and is a consequence of the first 2 pillars.  After getting your main message with a few supporting points across – be gone!  End the message.  Let your reader know that they can stop reading now.  Corporate email is not a place for small talk – expectations increase every year, profits are expected to continuously rise, and no one has time to type out small talk.  In all honesty, the best approach to implementing this pillar strategy is to use the email subject line effectively.

Instead of your subject line reading this:  “Production test results”

Try this: “Successful test at Albuquerque plant completed, on track to deliver consumer test product next week.”

Wow!  Now Gina doesn’t even need to open the email to learn what she needed to know, and you saved her even more time!  And if she does choose to open the email, you have a bi more detail in there to help in her understanding…but you gave her a choice, you didn’t force her to invest her precious time to get what she needed.

So, to bring it all together – if you can establish yourself early on as a strategic communicator who won’t waste the time of your audience, it is much more likely that your emails get prioritized for reading.

And THEN – you have the ear of your audience, and have effectively become a business influencer!  Be Brief.  Be Great.  Be GONE!

Author: Jason Robinson

Jason is a chemical engineer who was pleasantly surprised there was a place for him in food.  He spent 19 years at a Fortune 500 BIG FOOD manufacturer, in roles of increasing responsibility spanning product, process, and packaging R&D.

Today, Jason lives in the Twin Cities of Minnesota with his wife of 15 years (also in the food industry as a Sensory Science Business Manager) and 2 energetic boys, at 12 and 9 years old.