Improving Your Email Communication Skills: The Importance of Specificity

Improving Your Email Communication Skills: The Importance of Specificity

By: Helen Bowman | Business Co-op Student
  7545 reads

Email communication is a critical skill in many jobs. Business student Helen Bowman shares tips on how to efficiently and effectively communicate through email, based on what she learned during her co-op at SAP.

Email communication is at the core of pretty much all jobs in the 21st century, but I never thought about how much of an important role your communication skills can have in day-to-day work. I thought that, after taking BUS 360W (Business Communications, a course that all Beedie students are required to take), I was fully prepared to handle email communications. Unfortunately, this is not true. Through BUS 360W, I learned how to, for example, write memos and prepare company-wide announcements via email, but I was taught very little in terms of how to handle day-to-day emails. When I was on co-op at SAP as an Intern, Translation Project Coordinator, email communication was something I really struggled with. This was important for me to learn, especially because I was always told that my written communication skills were excellent.

In the beginning of my co-op, one area where I really struggled in was not including sufficient information in my emails, so they were not clear and specific. This is especially important in software development, which is a very detail-oriented industry. For example, if you refer to a specific file, you need to include the file path. Moreover, if you refer to a specific component within a file, you need to include both the ID name and the file path.  Not only is it important to be specific with files, but it is also important to be clear about action items and who should be doing these action items. If you want somebody to do something, you need to specifically state that you want somebody to do it, and potentially list out all the steps of the process, if needed. At the beginning of my work term, my writing was very general, with only vaguely defined action items, no reference to file paths and IDs. As a result, I received many follow-up emails.  I would be asked to clarify , specifics, as it was hard for the people with whom I was communicating to execute on my requests, or they could not find what it was I was referring to because I did not include any specific details. I began adapting my writing style to include specific details and concrete action items, and I soon noticed that the number of follow-up questions was greatly reduced.

Not including enough information in my email communication also created problems in terms of communicating with the translation agencies I worked with. I sent emails to translation agencies all across the world, and because we are in one of the last time zones we would often receive responses the next day.  This delay in response time made being specific and detail oriented in my emails very critical. If I did not include enough information in my initial email to the translation agencies, there could be a lot of back and forth that could take a couple of days to resolve. This could be easily avoidable. I began adding more information to my emails, such as how to resolve a problem in the specific case and adding general guidelines, and if something was wrong, I would specifically explain how it should be fixed. As result, I received fewer follow-up emails from the translation agencies.

Email communication skills are both an art and a science, and it takes time and a lot of practice to hone your skills, especially when you’re new or in an industry where you are not familiar with best practice. Based on my experience, here are some tips to help you:

  • Do not assume people know what you are talking about. If you are referencing something specific, make it evident what you are referring to. Text formatting and screenshots can be very helpful.
  • If you want someone to do something, make it clear that you want them to do it. For example, instead of “it may be worth doing x”, which is vague and leaves the reader unsure of whether or not you want them to do it, say “please do x”. This is much more direct and to the point.
  • Include enough information so that the person you are responding to has the full context, but not so much that your email gets bogged down with irrelevances.

Through my experience at SAP, I have learned the importance of being specific when writing emails, whether you are writing to coworkers, or if you are communicating with stakeholders across the world.  By including relevant and important information in your emails, you will save yourself and others valuable time.

Beyond the Article:

Lead Image from: FeldmanCreative.com

Posted on November 08, 2014