4.4 Routine and Informational Messages: Email

Linda Macdonald

Parts of this chapter are adapted from Lean, Ethical Business Communication (2017), by Binod Sundararajan and Linda Macdonald,  published by Oxford University Press. Used with permission from the publisher.

Learning Objectives

  • Outline the form of a routine or informational message
  • Develop appropriate strategies for communicating by email
  • Utilize techniques for designing effective routine or informational message

A person being overwhelmed with too many emails.Most messages within the workplace are routine, informational messages delivered by email. Many of these messages are positive– thanking people for their contributions to a unit or announcing sales increases, for example. Most are neutral messages that convey or request information or action as colleagues share data and resources and work toward the organization’s goals.

A 2019 article in The Guardian states that the average office worker may receive 121 emails and send about 40 each day (Spicer, 2019). This number likely went up with the increased number of people working at home in 2020. Writing in a clear, concise, and organized manner can facilitate the flow of information and work productivity.

In Western business culture, routine or informational messages follow a simple, direct pattern:

  1. Opens with the purpose or main idea of the message.
  2. Provides any background or necessary details.
  3. Closes with a request for action and/or a courteous close.

Routine messages follow a direct pattern with the main idea or purpose at the start. Language choices and design techniques contribute to the effectiveness of a routine or informational message. Simple language that delivers the content clearly and precisely is essential for avoiding miscommunication. Design (for example, white space, lists, short paragraphs, use of bold) enhances readability.

Victoria Turk’s Tedx Athens talk “How to write an email” offers additional good advice on email. Listen for what she considers the Number 1 goal in writing business emails and for her advice on the content of the greeting, body, and closing.

 

(Direct link to Victoria Turk’s Tedx Athens talk “How to write an email” video)

Your employer may not favour some of Turk’s advice. For example, Turk advocates the use of emojis to communicate emotional intent in an email. A 2019 Forbes article supports her claim citing Vik Verma, 8×8 Inc. CEO: “[E]mojis help employees communicate more effectively with each other. They can indicate tone that might otherwise be misconstrued and can boost credibility” (Robinson, 2019). Your audience profile provides clues as to whether your use of emojis is appropriate. Age, gender, culture, and industry standards influence the acceptance of emojis in the workplace.

Reflection and Discussion

1. Do you agree with Turk’s advice regarding

  • email openings?
  • the use of emojis?
  • appropriate closings?
  • elements to include or avoid in a signature block?

2. What additional advice would you offer for effective email etiquette?

Check Your Knowledge

Case Studies: Workplace Emails

Each of the following cases illustrates the challenges of effective email communication. The writers need to assess their audience, clearly understand and articulate the purpose of the message, and deliver it in a form appropriate for the workplace.

The Case of Sean MacNeill: Routine Informational Email

On his first day on the job at Fred’s Fredericton Finance, Sean is asked by the supervisor, Maru Renault, to compose a message of introduction to the marketing team. Maru asks Sean to show Maru the message before sending it. Sean considers this task to be fairly simple and composes the following message:

letter x

 

Sean’s supervisor reads the draft email and asks Sean to reconsider his approach. First, Maru points out that Sean should consider the purpose of the message. Sean was asked to provide a self-introduction. How would Sean like the marketing team to see them? The email message is Sean’s first impression and should consider the professional relationship Sean would like to establish with the team. What message does the email convey? And what does Sean want the audience to do or feel as a result of the message?

Sean considers the supervisor’s comments and thinks about what the message should convey. The email as is does not project a professional image. Sean used a university email account rather than the work address, which presents them as a student rather than a young professional. The use of explanation points and the casual approach further undermines the professional appearance. The humour intended in stating that they do not know what they are doing affects credibility. The lack of an appropriate closing and the lack of a signature block also show a lack of professionalism.

Maru also points out that Sean has not considered their audience. The form of the message Sean has written is more appropriate for a text message to a friend than an email to co-workers. The message will be received by everyone on the marketing team, from recent hires to senior management. The relaxed and casual workplace environment at Fred’s Fredericton Finance does not mean an informal, chatty message is appropriate. Maru asks Sean what the audience would like to know about them– perhaps their full name and where they are from– and to use the message as a way to establish working relationships.

Sean reconsiders the purpose of the message. Sean wants to use the message to establish a professional relationship with co-workers. Although Sean would like to appear friendly and competent, they want to be regarded as a professional, not as a student. Sean would also like to build a professional network. They decide that it is best to err on the side of formality in his message rather than informality.

Sean’s revised message clearly identifies the purpose or main idea in the subject line and in the first paragraph where they announce his role with the company. In the second paragraph, Sean provides additional detail by communicating interest in the company and the position. The third paragraph provides a courteous close in expressing their interest in meeting new colleagues and providing the readers with contact details.

The revised message considers the audience. Because the audience consists of busy professionals, Sean uses a direct yet friendly approach. Sean imagines that the audience may wonder how to make contact, so Sean anticipates this need by including where they can be found and how they can be reached. The format of the letter also addresses audience needs. The message has a clear subject line so that the audience knows what the message is about. White space makes the message more readable in an online email format. The signature block is in a standard form familiar to the readers.

The Case of Sean MacNeill: Routine Request for Information

Maru then assigns Sean their first task. The company is looking for potential investment in the growing city of Halifax. He asks Sean to look at the various apps currently available in Halifax for identifying and tracking bus routes. He would like Sean to write a report for him on the basic content, cost, and customer feedback of these existing apps. Some information has already  been compiled by another member of the Marketing team, Misha Aldan. Maru asks Sean to request the information from Misha and to begin work as soon as possible because Maru will need the information by next week’s strategy meeting. Misha, he says, is away at a conference in Calgary for the rest of the week, but she took her computer with her.

Sean’s message below contains three essential parts for a message of request. Sean

  1. opens with the purpose of the message (to gather information).
  2. explains the background and provides detail (in this case, the strategy meeting and the importance and timeliness of the request).
  3. closes with a specific request (send the information) and a courteous close (thanking the recipient).

Click on the blue buttons for explanations.

image

Sean’s message uses three short paragraphs to enhance readability. Because Misha is away at a conference, she may only have time for a quick read of the email. Sean uses white space to enhance readability by effectively dividing the message into sections and highlighting the question that starts the third paragraph. They also omit any irrelevant statements out of respect for Misha’s time and to maintain professional formality.

The Case of Misha Aldan: Response to Request for Information

Misha can easily read and understand what Sean needs to complete his report. She moves quickly to the point of her message without being abrupt or rude. Her bullet-point summary of the information included in the attachment highlights the information, eliminates unnecessary language, and enhances readability. Design features, including white space and a sans serif font, make the message easy for the audience to read in an online format.

image An example of a proper response to a request for information.

 

The Case of Lara Leveaux: Emailed Information Report

Lara has been working in accounting at APPFORMS, a firm that develops mobile applications for computers and smart phones, for several weeks. Her supervisor, Yue Goldberg, has requested that she calculate and report on the the sales of the company’s Maple Green app. This app helps users identify retail stores, restaurants, and growers that sell organic products.

Yue asks Lara to look at Maple Green’s monthly earnings for the past year. She would like Lara to determine if the Best New App Award in March and the addition of interactive features in June coincided with increased sales. Lara is to report her findings to Yue and to the app development team.

Lara begins by gathering the monthly sales of the app, a $2.00 Android application, for the past year. She could present the sales by month in a list, but to make the trends in the data easy to see in a glance, she decides to use a line graph. She ensures that the x and y axes are labeled appropriately. Since there are only twelve data points, she feels that the chart would be even more illustrative if she added the data labels indicating the sales figure for each month on the line graph.

Lara constructs her email to Yue Goldberg and her team. She realizes that this information is one of many pieces of information that Yue and her team will use in decision-making. She decides that a direct approach in presenting the information is best for an audience that needs to access the information quickly and easily. She decides not to begin with social comments or questions but to move directly to the information requested.

Check Your Knowledge

Key Takeaways

To assist the flow of work in business, be direct, concise, and polite. Routine and informational business messages should

  • Open with the purpose or main idea of the message.
  • Provide any background or necessary details.
  • Close with a request for action and/or a courteous close.

In addition to precise language and a clear organizational strategy, use design techniques like white space, lists, sans serif fonts, and visuals to make the information as readable as possible.

References

Robinson, B. (September 7, 2019). Emojis: An essential tool for innovative business communication. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2019/09/07/emojis-an-essential-tool-for-innovative-business-communication-really/?sh=7b1fe5e6c9e6

Spicer, A. (April 8, 2019). How many work emails is too many?. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/shortcuts/2019/apr/08/how-many-work-emails-is-too-many

 

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