The 5 Cs of Email Writing
Written by- Kamini Taneja, Academic Manager, British Council.
‘Please do the needful and revert back asap.’
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We see sentences like these in emails all the time. However, it’s not the most effective way to write since it doesn’t state what needs to be done and by when.
Emails need to be written as clearly as possible to avoid causing confusion, especially when transacting with partners/stakeholders overseas. A common complaint among Learning and Development managers is that their team members, while excellent in technical skills, can’t communicate successfully in writing. This leads to a lot of time being spent correcting and proofreading emails before they are sent out. This is especially true when emails are written to senior managers or important stakeholders. Furthermore, it has a negative impact on employee productivity and decreases efficiency.
Business communication is heavily reliant on emails – an indispensable tool in the business world today. So let’s look at the 5 Cs of email writing.
Complete: This is about stating your purpose up front and providing the right amount of information. It is a good idea to explicitly state what action will follow and when, and who will do it.
For example, let’s look at an email that starts with the sentence ‘I am writing to enquire about the new photocopier model manufactured at NEWX.’ Is the purpose/reason for writing clear or obvious? We usually state the reason for writing in the opening sentence of the email. It is also vital that all information is logically presented in the message.
Clear: This relates to using specific language. Which of these sentences specify exactly what action is required from the reader?
- We might extend the deadline to some extent on the condition that necessary measures are taken in a timely fashion.
- You now have until 31st March to remove all machinery from the site.
Additionally, using linking words, paragraphs to logically connect ideas is of utmost importance.
Correct: Let’s consider these sentences: ‘I received many informations from you last week.’ or ‘I have received a letter from you on Monday.’
Can you spot any errors in these sentences?
You got that right – information is an uncountable noun so doesn’t take a ‘s’.
The second sentence can be written as ‘I received the letter on Monday.’ We use the past simple to state completed actions in the past (i.e. the action of receiving the letter is complete). The use of present perfect, in this case, brings together two contradictory elements: I have received the letter (recently received the letter) on Monday (with a past time phrase, time that is complete and over).
Grammatical accuracy plays a big part in how you come across to the reader and if the message was received as intended. Remember, words are powerful, but the right words are dynamite.
Concise: It is important to use short sentences (15-20 words). Take a lo at this sentence:
The recommendation I have, and this is the area which I will now address in this section, is that relating to the issue of whether we need to provide refreshment for the employees of our company. It being my considered opinion that in fact, it would save time if the aforementioned meal could be provided by our company rather than having the employees go outside for any eventual refreshment.
The importance of keeping it simple and concise cannot be stressed enough when drafting crisp and easy to understand messages. Sentence length and “big” words can distort the message. Besides, who has the time to read long-winded emails! A better sentence is:
In order to save time, my recommendation is to provide refreshment to all staff in the office rather than having them go out.
Courteous: Our relationship with the reader influences our choice of language (formal/informal). When talking to your reader, you need to tailor your writing to fit their specific needs. One needs to consider what the tone of the message is and strike the right level of formality.
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