How to Write an Email (No, Really): Victoria Turk at TEDxAthens (Transcript)

Someone who emails like this is trying to show you how busy and important they are. And that’s not very polite.

Another problem with this is the lack of useful information. The email is short, but it’s not necessarily easy to deal with. What are you supposed to do with that?

As a recipient, are you expected to respond, to take some sort of action? It’s really not clear.

When you email, to reduce the burden of email, you should be putting all the relevant information and make sure it’s included the first time. Double emailing is a big faux pas.

As well as a lack of practical information, the problem with the super succinct email is the lack of emotional information. This is a major problem with email as with many forms of digital communication.

Because it’s conducted by text, it’s very difficult to convey sentiment. You don’t have any of the nonverbal cues that we use when we’re speaking to each other in real life to communicate your intent, like facial expressions, tone of voice or body language. And that makes it easy for email to be misconstrued.

Is that “Okay,” happy, sad, begrudging, angry? It can be hard to tell.

So when you write an email, read it back and check that it can’t be misinterpreted, and make use of all of the language tools that we do have to try to communicate our emotional intent. Even a simple punctuation mark can make a big difference.

Take a look at these. Which of these would you most like to receive and which would you least like to receive?

I’d most like to receive the second one. That’s a very enthusiastic thanks. I’d least like to receive the third one. There’s something so final seeming about that full stop, isn’t there?

And by the way, this is why I’m very pro-emoji in email, provided it’s not a very formal context.

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Emoji are great at communicating sentiment; they’re basically a digital stand-in for facial expression, after all, and all the tools that we do have to make sure that we’re not misunderstood, we should be making use of.

Next, let’s get on to one part that so many people get wrong: The Sign-Off. I’ll keep this one simple.

There is a correct way to sign off an email. It is “Best wishes.” “Best” and “All the best” are also acceptable. Anything else? Sorry, no.

“Yours sincerely”? Too formal.

“Yours”? Too intimate.

“Cheers”? Okay for friends, but too casual for a professional context.

“BW”? Tacky.

“Kind regards”? Just a bit pompous.

Those are all terrible, but my absolute least favorite email sign-off is “Thanks in advance.”

What’s wrong with “Thanks in advance”? It’s incredibly presumptive – you can’t thank someone for doing something before they’ve agreed to do it. That’s not how gratitude works.

When you say “Thanks in advance” in an email, you’re basically saying, “Hey, by the way, you have no choice whether to do this or not.”

So stick to “Best” or “Best wishes,” and you can’t go wrong. And you do need to write it out every time.

Relying on your automated signature to do it for you is the height of laziness. Plus, it won’t show up in some email clients.

While we’re on email signatures, actually, if you do decide to use one, keep it classy – no colorful word art, no JPEG logos that are going to confuse everyone’s antivirus, and no deep and meaningful quotes.

Just your name and, if necessary, your contact details.

So we’ve got our email, a few finishing touches: the subject line. Keep it simple.

It should do what it says on the tin, or in this case, in the email. Summarize your email in a few key words. Don’t write a full sentence because it will get chopped off.

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Don’t try to be funny and do not overplay the urgent card.

“CC.” There may come a time when you want to send an email to multiple people at once, at which point you may wish to make use of the “CC” feature.

Now, if you take one thing away from this talk, let it be the “CC” rule.

I didn’t come up with the “CC” rule. In fact, it’s so important it’s even included in the go-to etiquette bible, Debrett’s. The “CC” rule states that primary recipients of an email, who are expected to respond, should go in the “To” field. Other recipients of an email, who are not expected to respond and who are included as a courtesy or for their information, should go in the “CC” field.

Next time you receive an email that’s been addressed to multiple people, take a look: Are you a primary recipient, or are you on “CC”? Do you need to respond?

What I love about the “CC” rule is it makes the expectations on your recipients so clear. If you’re in the “To” field, you should respond; if you’re on the “CC” field, you should not respond.

And it also reduces the burden of email by hopefully cutting back on the number of emails sent. Those people on “CC” don’t have that awkward moment where they’re wondering, “Am I expected to pitch in here?” The “CC” rule will change your email life.

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