Email has been around for about 20 years and become a major communication channel in business.
After we have presented some of the principles of TightOps and talked to people, we realized that people first catch on to the tips and ideas around how to use email. So we decided to expand this section of TightOps first, add more information and try to make it the basis from where you can begin to improve your communications and then, in time, also see how email relates to and complements the other communication channels.
Email at a Glance
|Type||Interruption-Level||Style & Tone||Used through||Popularity||Reach|
|asynchronous||low||casual to formal||app / browser||high||individual, group, mass|
"Email allows asynchrony: each participant may control their schedule independently." (Wikipedia)
The subject of any email you send should be composed based on the following rules.
One subject per email.
When composing email use it’s best to restrict yourself to one subject per email. Yes, that sometimes means you will send mulitple emails to the same recipient(s).
One subject per email has two advantages:
- The email is easier to find if you or the recipient(s) need to refer to it later.
- If the email leads to a conversation thread, it will have a defined and specific subject.
Make your subject lines as specific and descriptive as possible.
Instead of using the subject "Question" while composing an email message, try "Question about options to simplify checkout process", or "Simplifying checkout process". This subject directly addresses the issue at hand and will also make it easy to search for later with a search phrase like "checkout process".
Most modern email clients or web application display your inbox as a list of items. The two elements are most helpful to visually filter through this list are:
- the sender/recipient
- and the subject line of the email.
(CC License. Photo by Ben Lucier )
When composing an email you determine the recipient(s). There can be multiple email addresses in the recipients field, seperated by commas. The person or people listed here are the primary audience of the message.
As a secondary level, you can add further email addresses to the CC-field, which stands for carbon copy. You "CC" people to keep them informed about the fact that this information is communicated or to allow them access to it for later reference.
A third level of recipients is the BCC-field (blind carbon copy). Email addresses added here are not visible for any of the other recipients. They will also not be included in when the email action "reply" (or reply all) is used.
Email Style Guide
Email can be seen as a replacement for postal mail and letters. Its style and tone follow the same basic rules.
Recommended Style Elements
When you compose emails you should restrain yourself to the use of
- citation levels (in conversation threads),
- monospace font
Styles that should be avoided:
- font color other than black (except the automatic coloring that occurs with citation in conversation threads)
- other fancy formatting (e.g. comic sans font)
Use quotations to address and refer to specific parts of the conversation.
Here’s a screenshot of how that would look in GMail’s web interface. You can see how I replied to different parts of the email I received.
Another possiblity is to copy the parts you want to address and use them like headlines before the paragraphs in which you reply to the questions or issues you received.
Quotations are an important feature to be used in replies and conversation threads.
Quoting lets you to address and reply to a specific part of the previous email(s) or conversation.
Addressing the Recipient
Address the recipient(s) at the beginning of your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Smith, 1
When composing an email the recipient is addressed at the beginning in a more or less formal, letter-like way.
- reply / reply all (conversation threads)
- forward (the FYI rule)
- mark as read / unread
reply / reply all
Replying to an email either creates a new or continues an existing conversational thread. If more than one recipients have received the email at hand, you can decide to reply to the sender alone or to everybody on the recipient list.
As a general rule in TightOps, you always need to evaluate whether somebody needs to receive this information, or, if you can spare them the act of processing it (this is also covered in the Channel Communication Code.
When forwarding emails to your teamamtes make sure to provide some context or a quick summary at the top that points to the most important parts of the text.
here is Mr. Jones’ reply to our proposal. Take a look at the paragraph "Technology" and please add his requirements to your spec doc.
insert the forwarded text here
The FYI rule:
Don’t simply (and lazily) forward emails to your teammates and make them read the entire message – or even worse, the whole conversation thread.
Email used to be a way to send, share, and distribute other documents or files as attachements. This practice has always been very limited in diffetent aspects, i.e. file size, number of files, file types, etc. Attachments have also been and still are the major way to ditribute viruses and malware.
In recent years, more and more attachments, or reference material is shared with other services that either tie into email (e.g. Google Drive and GMail) or provide URL links to be included in the message, like Dropbox and countless others.
There are better ways to store and share files than sending them via email.
Managing Your Email Inbox
The amount of emails we receive in the workplace seems to be increasing daily. Because of this trend, more and more people struggle to keep up with email, or their inbox: The unread messages count on your email client just won’t go to zero. So how do you cope with the onslaught? Or, do you even have to? We will look into that.
At the core of managing your email inbox is the idea of processing. That is your point of interaction with all new, incoming messages. Basically, every email in you inbox forces you to make a decision. The more emails, the more decisions you need to make – and that becomes tiring very quickly.
Having a reliable and trusted way to process your emails and make these decision without too much energy spent, is what we are aiming for.
Merlin Mann, who came up with "Inbox Zero", put it this way:
Clearly, the problem of email overload is taking a toll on all our time, productivity, and sanity, mainly because most of us lack a cohesive system for processing our messages and converting them into appropriate actions as quickly as possible.
Merlin further suggests five ways an email can be processed, :
The idea here is to get rid of as many messages as possible, leaving the ones you need to actually do something about.
To start, let’s look at two major ways to keep track of processed versus un-processed emails in your inbox:
- The Read/Unread System
- The Archiving System
The Read/Unread System
I have personally used the the read/unread system for years before I made the switch to archiving. Therefore, I feel there is a natural progression here, but that doesn’t mean you need to start with the read/unread system.
The idea is simple: messages that have been processed are marked as read and can be ignored from that time on. You just keep them around for reference, while in fact only focusing on everything unread in your inbox.
Because of that "rule", you need to mark some emails as unread even though you have in fact just read them. The status unread provides a way of saying that still you have to do something about this message.
One of the downsides of this approach is that your inbox is always full, and on top of that, you may need to sort your inbox to keep everything unread at the top so it doesn’t get buried somewhere out of sight.
A variation or refinement of this approach is to create a smart folder that will contain (or rather show) all unread emails. If you do this you are getting closer to the archiving approach.
The Archiving System
Again, simple idea: everything that has been processed, gets archived. The messages are still in your email account, but not in your inbox.
Archiving is not deleting. It just moves the messages out of sight. This leads to a more clean, less cluttered inbox.
Search in Email
Again, in email as in other tools and channels, search is of the essence. You have to Become a Master at Search.