How NOT to Send an E-Mail

Inter-office communications can backfire easily.

I’m finding this a few years out of my undergraduate degree and after working in roles that require either minimal or severely colloquial correspondence (working at an older “start-up” and a call center has had some lack-of-formality perks).

Now that I’m facing independent research, as well as reporting responsibilities at work, it’s time to get back to the basics of reporting and analysis that were ingrained in high school and college.

I’ve talked about some impending SEO overhaul to my current duties, which initially resulted in a request for me to provide data. To do so, I took a few hours, found the data from SEMRush and some tangential access to Google AdWords Keyword Planner, compressed some of it, and shuffled other bits to the side and sent a very messy e-mail to my manager with the results.

It was not well received. At least, not formatting-wise. Jury’s out on the content until next week.

At the end of the day, across the web, SEO and any communication, knowing and catering to your audience is key. At the most basic level, I had stumbled in the initial 48-hours by not adjusting presentation and information to my audience.

Some things I learned about reporting data in an e-mail:

  • This isn’t school. Don’t assume knowledge held by your intended audience, but don’t assume they know nothing unless they’re John Snow. Walk a fine line between less than what you discovered and slightly more than layman’s terms. BRIEFLY explain results if the data is not an everyday subject for the recipient.  
  • Plan your report/analysis. My biggest stumble was that I regurgitated numbers without impact and rambled about causes, when the request was simply for results. It was messy and to be honest, embarrassing.
  • Start. With. The. Result. It’s an answer, a number, a figure. More importantly, it’s a logical starting point that answers the task or question originally posed. And not all requests for information warrant an explanation (or want one). Think about the depth of the question, and explain briefly if necessary.
  • Consider the audience’s communication style. My manager is a bit of a mixture: his position allows him to ask for concise information that is result-oriented and without personal commentary. The expectation is that after this, we should be prepared to go into detail on any element of your content. His delivery focuses on context and explanation before results. Which, fair- he oversees two teams that can go weeks without overlapping work. 

A lot of the things I learned this week are pretty basic, but let’s be honest. I didn’t falter because I was unaware. Rather, because I didn’t take the time to edit myself and think.

Does this whirlwind take hold of anyone else? I don’t believe I’m alone in being…careless when I get wrapped up in something new and exciting, but I’m definitely working towards minimizing the occurrence.

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