Today, I’d like to talk to you about how to turn five minutes of work into fifteen. Who wants to do that? Well, hopefully no one! I certainly don’t. But I’ve found myself on the receiving end of this too frequently lately.
Back in grade school, I remember learning about the 5 W’s (and one H) of journalism Who, what, when, where, why and how. Everyone who sends a business email should keep these in mind as they write. If you’re asking someone to help, at least make an effort to give the reader the information they need to solve the problem you’re putting in front of them. Here are some examples.
I received an email asking me to jump on a call and discuss something with an individual I haven’t met before. He was copied but there was no phone number. I replied with my cell phone number asking him to call me. Sure, I can look at the domain name on the back of his email address and then go there and hope he’s listed with contact information but that’s all wasted effort, Why not send along the individual’s contact info the first time?
Another email asked for my help on how we should record a refund we received. The only problem was that it came as a reply to the original email with no information as to who the refund was from, the amount, the reason or anything else. The information I got said “We got a refund check! Woot woot! What would you like me to do with this?”. For the record, “Woot! Woot!” are not two of the W’s mentioned above. I had to email back twice asking for information that the original sender clearly had in their possession. I counted 7 emails before I was finally able to gather the information and provide direction (via email #8). Determining what to do was the easiest part of the process. This could have been handled in (at most) 3 emails. 1) The original email with the correspondence attached. 2) A forward to me since I was not on the original string. 3) A reply or forward from me with instructions to the people who needed to act.
Two similar items came across my desk as well. The basic story was that there was a deal or “free money” available because someone heard that someone else told a 3rd person that a 4th person said so. It was like a bad game of telephone. And in neither case was there a real name, phone number or email address of the original source. Do everyone a favor. If you have a great deal to pass along, get to the source first and pass that along as well.
I tried to find some stats on the percentage of business emails that are a waste of time. The numbers were all over the board. One study put it at 62% and in my example it was 5 of 8 (62.5%) and while that’s a nice coincidence it’s not exactly proof positive. Another study put it at 82% (seems high). But whatever the number, we can probably all agree it’s a lot.
So, I’m asking you to do your part and help save those electronic trees that get cut down with every email. Provide enough information to give the reader half a chance of dealing with it the first time. Make your grade schoolteacher proud.
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