Thursday, December 22, 2011

Business Writing: The Three-M Email

Like many communications professionals, I receive and send a lot of email.

My college students communicate with me daily - and poorly. Clients and colleagues often hit the "Send" button without re-reading. I'm sure (in the heat of a deadline-driven panic) I have done the same. But it's inexcusable. Email messages deserve the same respect that the disappearing art of handwritten messages do: think before you write, read before you send.

For example, here's an email message sent to me by a student who rarely showed up to my college-level writing class:

"Hello, my sources were on the back of the essay, did you not get them? And i will touch up the argumentative essay, and also hand in the 2nd essay. Thanks for understanding. And tomorrow, the 11th, i may not be able to make it to class if so ill be late due to a physio thrapist appointment, its very hard for them to fit me in there schedule, which kind of bothers me. In the the meantime ill be working on the reading responce summary and the 2nd essay. Please let me know what/ if i miss anything important tomorrow."

Tone: All "me"; no "thee"
Correctness: Lacking (I mean, really. "...ill be late"? "its very hard for them to fit me in there schedule"?)
Coherence: None
Purpose: All over the place
Overall effect: "I don't care."

The 3-M Rule should apply to every email message you write:


Be nice. The reader can't see your eyes or facial expressions. He can't hear the tone of your voice. Your word choice has to provide the cues.

"John - I need the registration numbers" is a clear enough message, but it's also curt and abrupt. Not nice.

"Hi John - Please send the registration numbers. Thanks, Mary."  Getting ride of "I need" and using "Please" changes the tone of this message, as does the "thanks" as a sign-off. Clear, correct, concise - and nice.

Why does being "nice" - the art of using good manners - matter in email communication? See "Marketing", below.


Did I mention "clear, correct, concise"?  Choosing familiar words, spelled correctly, in a variety of simple, compound, and compound-complex sentences, creates a smooth and effective message.

Say what you mean. Choose precise words: "now" instead of "at the present time"; "concerning" instead of "with respect to". (Need some help? Google "wordiness" or "wordiness exercises" and you can find lots of online practice. Here's one to start with: Polishing Your Writing.)

Proofread for correctness and typos. Use Spellchecker (although you should also be aware of its pitfalls). Better yet, compose your message in Word, with all its useful tools, and Copy/Paste your message into your email. Leave the recipient's address field empty until you're sure your message is ready; that way, you won't accidentally send an error-filled draft.


Every time you hit "Send", you are sending an image of you - your strengths, weaknesses, intelligence, abilities, attitude, general savviness - into someone's Inbox. Even the briefest message says more about you than the actual words do.

You have the opportunity to market yourself every time you send an email message, and that's a powerful tool.

So use it! Make every message count. Be aware of Manners, Message and Marketing.

And the student who sent that ineffective, error-filled message?

Yes. He failed the course.