typing email

More than half of Canadian workers spend up two to four hours a day reading email, web pages, memos and reports, according to a 2006 survey by Toronto-based consulting firm Communicare.  With 70% of respondents saying poorly written communications make them less productive, it's not hard to imagine the financial damage done by ineffective email.

New Jersey-based communications consultant Debra Hamilton says that, according to her analysis, the typical 100-employee company loses the equivalent of $420,000 annually to email miscommunication.

So, what makes an email effective?

Sandra Folk, president of Toronto-based Language Lab, a company that offers business email online courses, and Philip Vassallo, the Parlin, N.J.-based author of "The Art of E-Mail Writing," offer these seven tips for writing the perfect email:

1. Clear subject line

The subject line should precisely describe the content of the email, says Folk. "Tell the recipient exactly what they are going to find in the email. Remember that subject lines can be used as a searchable phrase for easy retrieval later." For example: "Agenda for May 15th 3 p.m. sales meeting."

2. Informative opening line

The first line should set up the content of the email, says Vassallo. "Concisely explain the purpose of the email and what you are about to communicate." For example, an email about that sales meeting should start with: "During the May 15th meeting we are going to discuss the following three items." Then list the items.

3. Call to action

"End your email with the call to action in a separate paragraph," says Folk. It should leave the reader knowing exactly what they need to do next. For example: "Bring two new ideas for sales leads."

4. Think like a tweeter

Brevity is essential. Limit your emails to three or four paragraphs with sentences of 25 words or less, says Folk. Organize the content in descending order of importance. If you have to send a more complex message, Folks says consider communicating it in another way, such as a phone call or in-person meeting.

5. No formatting

Use italics, bold and capitals sparingly, says Vassallo. "It can cause a reader to focus only on that part of the email and miss other details."

6. No graphics

Graphics, charts or other supporting information—like sales trends—should be included as attachments and referred to in the email, says Vassalo.

7. No errors

Read it out loud before you click send, says Folk. "Don't rely on spell check to catch incorrect word use. Remember, you're representing yourself and your company, and reputations are at stake."

This covered inter-office emails. Looking for tips on communicating with clients? Read Keys to Killer Emails

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