5 Strategies to Effectively Communicate Instructions Through Email

Businesses often accentuate succinctness in communications.  This is understandable.  No one wants to read a rambling message with unnecessary content.  However, efforts to appeal to today’s short attention spans and incorporate time-saving strategies often have the side effect of leaving out necessary information. This results in misunderstandings, with tasks completed incorrectly or ineffectually. 

1.  Include context. 

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”  The corollary of this adage is, “you don’t know what other people don’t know.”  Make sure the context of your communication is there; some people need that overall comprehension of how their duties contribute to the big picture.  When contextual understanding is not present, people don’t know the questions to ask. They don’t realize they need those answers. 

2.  Incorporate an introduction, content, and conclusion.

Visually construct an email that is easy to read in chunks.  The introduction serves to tell people of the problem at hand and include context.  If you’ve already had a conversation, remind them of that here as well.  If the content can be done in list form, do so, and use bullet points. Make sure the sequence of instruction is logical. Use the conclusion to reiterate your main points, objectives, or deadlines.  

3.  Check pronouns and subjects. 

Are they all there? Make sure you have identified the subject before referring to it with a pronoun.  Will the reader know what “it” is?  Additionally, the understood “you” does not apply to “I.”  For example, “take care of x” has an understood you at the beginning, “need to give you x” does not have an understood I.  

4.  Identify possessives, prepositions, or prepositional phrases you could add or change. 

I blame texting for the recent tendencies to be careless here.  These items can be difficult to identify since they often include information you already know, but that may be unclear to others.  A good exercise is to reread it with fresh eyes, pretending to be the intended reader.  I read an example of this yesterday in a social media post.  The writer wrote that eating bananas and whole grains were exactly what *not* to do every day.  They left out “if you are on a keto diet,” so I was thoroughly confused. 

5.  Include a sincere call to action. 

Invite the reader to ask you questions and tell them the best way to get ahold of you.  Check your tone.  If you aren’t sincere, people may not take you up on it.  You are creating a mini culture in your email.  Make it a culture that is a safe place to ask for help.  You don’t want people thinking they maybe understand the right thing to do, but they don’t check because they don’t want to look stupid.  You want people to fully and confidently understand the task at hand.

You don't have to spend a lot of extra time on each email.  Make the intention to start thinking from the reader's point of view.  Start practicing the above strategies and improvement will happen in time.  Notice the types of questions people ask and see if there's a way you could've communicated that would've made that question null.

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