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Five Tips for Email Excellence

Five Tips for Email Excellence

From the Author of E-WRITING: 21st-Century Tools for Effective Communication

Dianna Booher 


The article, below, is written by Dianna Booher, an international expert in communications and author of more than 40 books, including E-WRITING: 21st-Century Tools for Effective Communication (Simon & Schuster Pocket Books). Booher has worked with 25 of the 50 top corporations in American and 227 of the Fortune 500 companies.

Booher is also the designer of the PERC Writing Assessment tool that measures communications effectiveness. The assessment takes 20 to 25 minutes to complete. You can take the assessment for free online at

More information about Dianna Booher and her book, E-WRITING, follows the article.

Five Tips for Email Excellence

by Dianna Booher

Grammar goofs can take you to court. Poor writing can sink a sale or sabotage your career success. Consider these examples:

  • Did Richard Clark state a compelling case in his memos to his boss, Dr. Condoleezza Rice?

  • Did Jamie Gorelick, who serves on the 9/11 Commission, write with authority when she opined that the CIA and the FBI should remain separate entities and keep their intelligence-gathering efforts inside their own walls?

  • Did the writers of the Florida Election Code understand the difference between shall and may when they drafted the law that helped determine the president of the United States?

  • Did Martha Stewart regret the handwritten phone messages she and her assistant jotted to each other regarding the infamous stock sale?

One thing is for certain: political pundits and CEOs alike understand the role of writing in decision making, action, liability, consequences, results, and rewards.

Would you yourself write "One of the consultants who have agreed to discount the price is complaining" or "One of the consultants who has agreed to discount the price is complaining"? What if your own job depended on that decision?

If a colleague emailed you this message, "Chris Philips rejected the supplier's tempting offer, which displeased the executive team" would you know what upset the executive team? What if the statement were the basis for your testimony in court? Grammatically correct does not necessarily mean clear.

No doubt, the 9-11 Commission members found themselves embroiled in a grammar brouhaha as they wrote their final report: Passive voice seems to be the structure of choice for bureaucracies who can't come to consensus about blame: "Mistakes were made." To know why is to understand a major issue in grammar and writing style. The active-passive decision is the same choice every salesperson makes when writing "We appreciate your business" versus "your business is sincerely appreciated."

Writing skills are not getting any better: A 2004 survey by the College Board's National Commission on Writing asked members of the Business Roundtable to comment on writing skills of employees from six sectors (mining; construction; manufacturing; transportation and utilities; services; finance, insurance and real estate). According to respondents, one-third of US workers do not meet the writing requirements of their job. And two-thirds of salaried workers in large companies have to write as part of their job function.

Writing Is the Basic Business Act

How important is writing to the conduct of business of the organization as a whole?

"We primarily do all our business by email. Our marketing information is on the web, and they're putting our internal policies and procedures on the intranet. Our people just don't write much anymore": a rather odd, but common comment from a middle manager. What else do people read on the web and in their email? Words.

More, not fewer, people write. And these people are writing more than ever. Screen or paper, it matters not.

In today's e-commerce, written communication makes the competitive difference in overall organizational success. Customers, clients, and prospective business partners often check out your website before they even phone or fax you. If your website doesn't communicate what they need to know or build your credibility, you'll never get a chance to connect with them by phone or face to face.

Today more than ever, poor writing tempts a customer to click away, doubting that your technology or service is any better than your communication. An email, a web headline, or a product proposal with disorganized ideas, convoluted paragraphs, intimidating layout, or grammatically incorrect sentences tells the client that you won't service their engines well, amortize their mortgage correctly, or interpret their insurance coverage fairly.

Here are a few tips to make e-mail writing easier, faster, more effective:

Five Tips for Email Excellence

1. Strive For a Style Somewhere Between Stuffed-Shirt and T-Shirt

Like our work clothes, the preferred writing style has become business casual. And just as the business-casual dress code has some people stumped, so has the business-causal writing style. Those who write in a stuffy style bury the meat of their ideas in passive verbs. They select weak sentence subjects. They bury key actions. They add unnecessary qualifiers and intensifiers to vague abstractions. Finally, they drape their ideas in trite, verbose statements. At the other extreme are writers who send email that could pass for a T-shirt slogan: Aggressive words, without tact. Made-up words when precise words slip their minds. Rambling, irrelevant details burying key ideas. Misspellings. Incomplete thoughts. Mixed metaphors.

You'll do well to select an appropriate style somewhere between these two extremes.

2. Use the "So What?" Prompt to Turn Information into Communication

When you write any document, imagine your reader asking, "So what?" Then add that answer to your document. Draw the conclusions. State what action you want from the reader or what action you plan to take.

3. Avoid Stream-of-Consciousness Rambling

Just as the penny is the basis for the monetary system, the sentence is the basic unit of thought. For the most part, one sentence should convey one thought. If the email wasn't all that interesting to read the first time, imagine forcing people to slog through it a second time to catch your drift.

4. Be Careful with Knee-Jerk Responses

Email's greatest benefit can also be its greatest drawback. When we sit down to the keyboard "to do email," our mindset is typically to get through it all -- to empty our email box and get back to business. That mindset generates knee-jerk reactions to others' questions, solicitations of opinions, requests, and recommendations. We open. We read. We reply. Then we think -- or don't, as the case may be.

We nix a promising idea because it had a few glitches that we didn't take the time to consider seriously. We turn down a request to provide information because our day was already over-scheduled. We offer a make-do explanation or assessment rather than a reasoned one because speed, rather than thoroughness, was the goal. Be mindful of speed as a potentially negative habit.

5. Tune in to the Tone

Brevity breeds brusqueness. Let's say you've just asked your boss if she thinks you should consider working toward an advanced degree in night school at a local university to pursue credentials that might position you for a promotion. Consider the difference in these two responses:

Response 1: "No."

Response 2: "No, Terry, I don't think an advanced degree would have any effect on the potential for promotion here." Brief is good. Blunt is not. Sometimes an explanation adds a buffer to an otherwise cold, foreboding, or intimidating tone.

Assessing Your Writing

What you write is what you get. And what you don't know may be hurting you. You may want to have your writing professionally assessed. Check out to assess your own writing style. This free assessment takes about 20-25 minutes to complete. It measures effectiveness, productivity, and grammar/clarity.

So how do you know if your own writing is compelling? The assessment also includes a 360-degree component so users can gather feedback from readers of their documents. The peer assessment you'll invite colleagues to complete about your writing will take about 3-5 minutes.

First impressions hang on for a long time. What's the pay-off when people and organizations write well? Clear messages. Better decisions. Increased productivity. Better image.

About the Author

Dianna Booher is CEO of Booher Consultants, a communication training firm, and developer of the free online PERC Writing Assessment at

Dianna is the author of more than 40 books. She has published with Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books, Warner, McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, and HarperCollins. Her latest books include Speak with Confidence!: Powerful Presentations That Inform, Inspire, and Persuade; E-WRITING: 21st-Century Tools for Effective Communication; Communicate with Confidence!; and Get a Life Without Sacrificing Your Career. Several have been major book club selections. Her work is widely available on audio, video, and online courseware (WBT and CBT).

Dianna holds a master's degree in English from the University of Houston. She is a high-caliber keynote speaker on topics such as communication issues, personal productivity or life and career balance. Dianna has received the highest awards in the professional speaking industry, including induction into the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame. She is a member of the Speakers Roundtable (18 of the top speakers in the world). Additionally, Successful Meetings magazine named Dianna on its list of 21 Top Speakers for the 21st Century.

Consultant and CEO Dianna first began to lead organizations to increase their productivity through effective communication in 1980 when she founded Booher Consultants. Since then, Booher trainers have taken Dianna's communication principles and techniques to hundreds of organizations around the world. As course designer, Dianna has been selected to present her programs and techniques at numerous annual conventions of the world's top corporate training association, the American Society for Training and Development.

Dianna has been interviewed by Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, USA Today, Washington Post, New York Newsday, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal Radio, National Public Radio, Bloomberg, Investors Business Daily, Fox Family Network, Reader's Digest, Working Woman Industry Week, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, Success, Entrepreneur, among other national radio, TV, and newspapers.

Booher's books, audios, videos, online courseware, speech descriptions, and full-action video clips are all available at,, phone 1-800-342-6621

About the Book

21st-Century Tools for Effective Communication

by Dianna Booher
A Pocket Books Trade Paperback Original
(ISBN: 0-7434-1258-3, 387 pages, $14.95)
Available for purchase directly from:

In today's busy world, computers have become the primary tool for generating both personal and professional communication. In E-WRITING: 21st-Century Tools for Effective Communication, Dianna Booher presents the first comprehensive guide to electronic communication. With tips and guidelines on how to write concise emails with the appropriate tone and well-constructed formal documents, E-WRITING is an important desk reference for the digital age.

E-WRITING is the culmination of Booher's numerous books on grammar, interpersonal skills, and personal productivity. Written in a straightforward manner and organized for easy referencing, E-WRITING is poised to become the bible of business and technical writing. Drawing from her considerable experience training professionals, Dianna Booher has created an invaluable tool for improving all levels of communication. In this easy-to-use guide, readers will learn how to edit for content, layout, grammar, clarity, conciseness, and style. Readers will also learn how to:

  • Organize ideas for impact

  • Sound more authoritative and persuasive, on paper and on the screen

  • Improve the clarity of their messages and save reading time for others

  • Select the appropriate tone and style to suit the audience of today

  • Transform information into real communication

  • Improve both the language and layout of their websites

  • Heighten their professional image, self-confidence, and career prospects

E-WRITING is the first book to address the problems of electronic communication, as well as the traditional questions of grammar, punctuation and usage, in a user-friendly format that is sure to become a desktop staple.

Copyright 2004 by Dianna Booher.


About The Author

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