Monday, May 21, 2012

How to make your emails more effective

I would wager that most if not all interns are accustomed to using email as a primary form of communication.  I remember getting my very first email account in 1994 when I started college.  (Yes, in a time before the iPod, cue the dramatic music....)  Many of you have likely had your own email accounts since you were preteens or even had a single-digit age.  However, being comfortable with a medium of communication does not necessarily equate to effective use.  Email in the business world--and the architectural world--can be a powerful tool if used effectively.

As always, the first rule is to remember that your work email is for just that: work.  Any and every email you send out of and receive into your work email address belongs to your employer, and any of those emails can be evidence in a court of law.  Less drastic but just as important is that your emails, when well-written, can resolve disputes and clear up misunderstandings quickly during a project.  A clear, respectful email can be used to settle he-said-she-said-we-said problems in short order...or even prevent them in the first place.

The second rule of email is a corollary to the first: use email appropriately. Never write anything in an email that you wouldn't want read out at an office-wide meeting or printed on a billboard. If you even remotely think there could be an issue (or a possible ugly interaction) with what you're about to email out, make a phone call first, then use the email to recap the phone conversation as a confirmation of next steps.

The third rule of email is lesser-known but still very important: construct your emails precisely and appropriately.  Let's say you need to email the structural engineer about column locations in the main lobby of the Westview Hospital project.  You're going to ask the engineer if it's possible to offset a section of structure along a gridline, and you're including a PDF of a plan showing what you want to do.  

Here's what not to do:

To: Alex T. Engineer
From: Amy F. Intern
Subject: Westview Hospital
Attachment: WestviewPlan.pdf
Hay Alex, 
we want to move a section of grid line G so we can get more room in the lobby and get those columns away from the front door? take a look at this and let me know.

First of all, the subject line needs to be more precise than just the project name.  Why? Because this engineer probably gets a dozen or more emails from you per day and then a couple dozen per day from other consultants about the Westview Hospital project.  When they need to search their inbox or their email files to find the one about moving a column in the lobby, how can they do so effectively when they have literally over 100 emails titled "Westview Hospital"?  

The same goes for the attachment name.  When you or they save this PDF somewhere, it needs to be easily searchable and identifiable.  Naming it more precisely and putting a date on it (the date it was emailed out or created for review) allows you or them to find it easily in a month when they need to refer to it again.

Finally, the email reads like a run on question from a teenager, with no sense of capitalization.  The fact that you're asking an engineer if you can move his/her columns make it clear that you need a response, so you can delete the "let me know" part of the email. You have a college degree--write like it!  

Here's a better email:

To: Alex T. Engineer
From: Amy F. Intern
Subject: Westview Hospital - Move gridline G in lobby?
Attachment: Westview Lobby Plan w_gridline G - 2012-05-23.pdf
Hi Alex, 
In order to comply with some egress code issues, we need more clearance at the front door in the lobby.  What is the best way to move a section of grid line G in order to get the columns at G/3 and G/4 away from the front door? I've attached a PDF showing how we would ideally relocate those columns.

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