Posts Tagged ‘business writing’

Do you use email responsibly?

August 2, 2011

Email recently turned 40 years old. Hard to believe it’s been that long and even harder to believe that given its longevity, it’s one of the communication tools that is so often misused. Many of us feel so overwhelmed by our email in-boxes that we incessantly check our computers and mobile devices day and night trying to keep up.

A number of blogs and books have sprung up to help people manage email and to use it effectively. The blog, NetMatters, offers numerous tips and missives on the proper use of email and even urges people to take an “email etiquette pledge.” Danah Boyd, senior researcher at Microsoft, has gained attention for her promotion of the email sabbatical and provides details on how to take one when you go on vacation.

Even though I’ve noticed that teens and young adults appear to dismiss email as a form of communication in favour of SMS and chat, in the workplace, email still rules. Now that this communication tool has firmly reached middle age, maybe we can finally learn to manage it.

When I look at my own in-box and how I use email, I recognize areas that need reform. Here’s my personal list of resolutions and tips:

1. Not always responding – I try to be good about this, but sometimes I catch myself responding to an email even if I’ve just been copied on it and it’s a matter that does not require my input. There’s no need to contribute to the sender’s overloaded in-box with a response that simply says, “Thanks for the info.”

2. Clear subject lines – It makes me crazy when I’m searching for an old email using every keyword I can think of only to find that the original subject line from the sender was “Re”. That is not a subject line. I’ve resolved that when I get an email with an unclear subject line, I respond and insert a proper one. This makes it easier for me to search in future if required and, I hope, sends a subtle message to the sender that a clear subject line is required. Somewhat related is when someone uses an old email message in order to hit “reply” to send an unrelated new message. The person should start a new email thread to make searching for it later easier and to avoid confusion.

3. Vacations – I¬† need to improve here. When someone is on vacation, I need to stop sending him/her email. This is a tough one because if the person is gone for awhile, I’m afraid that I’ll forget that I need to inform him/her about something upon the person’s return. I think I can solve this by creating a draft email and waiting until the person returns to send it. That way, it’s written and just sitting there waiting for me to click send. I hate it when I return from vacation and have too many emails to deal with, so I need to set the example. Danah Boyd’s solution is a bit drastic but I can see its merits.

4. Visible email addresses on mass emails – I never do this on purpose but it annoys me when others do it. If you’re sending a mass email to multiple addresses, do a blind copy to all the recipients rather than making the addresses visible to everyone. My business email address is public knowledge but the Gmail address I use for personal correspondence is something I want to give out at my discretion. This public group email practice can also lead to the dreaded “reply all” thread that results in email conversations I don’t really need to be part of, which leads me to #5.

5. Reply all – Don’t do it unless everyone in that email address box really needs to be part of the conversation.

How about you? How have you tried to tame your email box? Share your success.


All flash and no substance? Your message is doomed.

March 9, 2010

I went to see Tim Burton’s new film, Alice in Wonderland, last weekend. I had been looking forward to seeing it ever since I saw the trailer revealing its stunning visual effects and typically wild, Burton-esque costumes. In the end, it was a very pretty film but not very compelling. With just a thread of a plot to hang onto, the story ended up being kind of, well, boring. The eye candy and A-list actors will be enough to bring out hoards to the theatre but will this film endure? I’m doubtful. The same holds true for the vehicles you use to communicate with your audiences in the corporate or nonprofit sector. If you aim for style over substance, you’re going to fall short of your goals.

A stunningly designed website, newsletter, advertisement, brochure or blog gets your foot in the door to your customer’s consciousness. It’s an absolute must for getting your message across. Equally important, though, is the written message you deliver. If it’s not clear, engaging and structured to deliver results on your established goals, it’s going nowhere.

Many small to medium-sized businesses as well as nonprofits¬† don’t appreciate the value of solid copywriting. Granted, professional design is an easier sell because the difference from bad/amateur design is immediately apparent. The effect of rambling, poorly constructed copy, however, only hits home when you realize people just aren’t reading, or understanding, whatever you’ve produced.

Here are the key indicators of good copywriting:

  • It reflects the audience reading it. This means it takes into consideration the audience’s interests, needs, values and reading ability.
  • It’s tailored to the platform. The medium (e.g., brochure, blog, website, direct mail) dictates writing style, length and structure. (Choosing the right platform for your message is also important.)
  • It engages. Good writing immediately draws your audience into your message and compels its members to act.
  • It’s clear. It doesn’t distract with poor grammar or typographical mistakes.

Small businesses and nonprofits are not always in a financial position to hire a professional copywriter but should make every effort to ensure that their message is being delivered in the most effective way possible.

If you’re the person charged with writing copy for your organization, invest in the time to learn the basics of effective corporate and persuasive writing. In addition to scads of good books that address various writing challenges (The Copyblogger blog includes a “must read” list), there are many free, online resources for improving writing as well. Some of my favourites include:

Bad Language (writing about writing) – blog

Write to Done (Unmissable articles on writing. Twice weekly.) – blog

Coppyblogger (Copywriting tips for online marketing success) – blog

Grammar Girl (Quick and dirty tips for writing better) – podcast/blog

Writing good copy is vital for any business or nonprofit. Without it, you’ll be less competitive and the goals you’ve set for reaching new audiences or engaging and sustaining customer relationships will consistently fall short. Make sure your message is being delivered.

Do you agree or do you think great design can make up for less than stellar content? Weigh in with a comment.