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What your e-mails say about you

On our business writing course we run in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, we discuss how people make judgements about you based on your writing style.

Picture someone that you email regularly, but have yet to meet.

You’ll have an idea of their personality, their approach to problems and decisions.

You may even have constructed an image of what they look like.

That’s because every time you receive an email, you’re forming an impression.

And every time you send one, the recipient is forming an impression of you.

A good one, a bad one, a memorable one, an instantly deletable one.

In the last year I’ve trained over 100 people in business writing courses in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Madrid.

Here’s what they tell us.

Here’s what your emails say about you.

1) The sender values my time

business writing course Glasgow Edinburgh Aberdeen - baby shoes

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway penned the following short ‘story’ to win a bet:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”.

These six words create an enormous amount of emotion, even empathy.

The word ‘worn’, rather than ‘used’ humanises the sentence.

The brevity of the advert suggests financial poverty.

A need to sell, despite the emotional distress.

So much can be said in so few words.

I estimate that 50% of what I read in emails could be cut.

The key is always to ask:

“How much does the recipient need to know?”

That guards against cutting out so much that you lose the context.

Here is a guide to making your writing brief, like Hemingway.

Lasting impression:

Your audience will see that you’ve valued their time by removing unnecessary context and detail.

So they’re more likely to give you their time in the future.

2) The sender talks in plain English

business writing course Glasgow Edinburgh Aberdeen - US Navy

“Keep it simple, stupid”.

The U.S. Navy’s KISS design mantra stands strong in our business writing courses.

I ran one in Glasgow last week, when one of the attendees wrote about the impact of buying plastic bottles in the company’s cafe, rather than reusing personal water bottles.

“Stop burning your bonus”,

she wrote.

Each year, the team receives a group bonus based on the company’s profitability.

By filling up the recycling bins with plastic waste, they were spending money unnecessarily.

That could be saved by reusing plastic bottles rather than buying new ones.

It was the simplest, briefest terminology.

It hit the audience between the eyes with the ‘what’s in it for me’, in four words.

Lasting impression:

People will understand what you’re asking for.

So they’re more likely to act quickly than if it’s laced with jargon.

Here’s more on writing clearly.

3) I trust what the sender is telling me

business writing course Glasgow Edinburgh Aberdeen - thumbs up

Here are two typical ends to an email:

“All being well, I’ll try and get it to you by Friday 1st May”.

“I’ll have it over to you by Monday 4th May”.

On first impression, the former feels stronger because it’s earlier.

People like getting things early, right?

Of course, but they prefer commitment.

Offering commitment is one of the best ways to build trust.

Even if it means telling them it’ll be three working days rather than two.

So consider what you can commit to, then remove words like ‘hopefully’, ‘try’, ‘all being well’ and ‘do my best’.

Lasting impression:

Your word is your bond.

You’re someone to be trusted to get things done.

Here’s more on offering commitment.

4) I can work with the sender

business writing course Glasgow Edinburgh Aberdeen - Einstein

Like all business writing, an email must follow a clear, logical order.

Start with the point, explain any relevant information and finish with a clear Call to Action.

Anything else and you’ll seem unfocused.

This has to do with both structure and style.

How do you write?

Long, rambling sentences forming vast chunks of information or simple, one-line paragraphs.

Multiple lists of bullet points or clear headings.

Figures all over the place or one clear, memorable number.

Your email should look the part.

Once you’ve finished writing it, glance at how it looks visually.

If it’s all over the place, start again.

Lasting impression:

You’re a clear, logical thinker.

That’s someone I can work with.

5) The sender gets things done quickly

business writing course Glasgow Edinburgh Aberdeen - email cc

Welcome to the mass cc (or carbon copy) email.

You wonder why you’re copied in.

You’d also be forgiven for thinking “what does this person want me to do?”

There are plenty of times when a cc is necessary.

But many people overestimate how many others need to know.

And before long, you’re copied into 20+ emails a day.

Before you cc someone, ask yourself:

“Do they need to see this? Would I be better writing a new, separate email to them?”

Value their time by applying more of yours, and avoid an endless trail of information.

Lasting impression:

This person cares about me and my role because they’ve written something specifically for me.

They’re less interested in backside-covering and more interested in getting things done.

Business writing course – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen

A business writing course helps you make a positive impression every time you send an email.

Come along to our business writing course in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen and we’ll help transform the impressions you’re making.


Andrew McFarlan is the Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can view his full profile here.


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4th October 2018 Featured in: Blog By:

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