E-mail: A Write It Well Guide by Janis Fisher Chan. (Write It Well, Oakland, CA. ISBN 0963745581)
Reader’s Digest version: If you want to learn how to write e-mail messages that get the job done effectively, manage your inbox more efficiently, present a polished and professional image through your use of e-mail, and avoid the common pitfalls of this ubiquitous medium, E-mail: A Write It Well Guide will help.
E-mail has usurped the role of the inter-office memo and the business letter as the medium for written business communication. It’s fast, inexpensive, and reduces paper clutter. But while it may be easy to dash off a message and send it on its way, that does not mean that it’s easy to write a message that gets results, one that communicates its key message clearly, informing the reader of some pertinent information, or persuading them to take some action.
And because it’s so easy to dash of a message and send it on its way, most of us have to deal with a daily onslaught, an electronic horde that fills our inbox with dozens or hundreds of messages clamoring for our attention, stealing away productive time and wasting our attention and energy.
And a poorly or hastily written e-mail message can have damaging, and sometimes disastrous, consequences. It can leave you, looking foolish and unprofessional at best, and at worst, shredding your reputation and your company’s image, or leading to litigation.
Enter Janis Fisher Chan’s book, E-mail: A Write It Well Guide. The first two chapters of this slim volume walk the reader through the process of identifying the purpose of your e-mail message, composing it, and sending it to the right people. It also includes a chapter on managing your own inbox, one on basic good writing principles, and a final chapter of “Cautionary Tales,” illustrating the many reasons why you must treat your e-mail messages with care, and providing some good guidelines for creating a corporate e-mail policy.
The book is well organized and broken into chunks nicely sized for a quick read. It’s clear that the author has done a lot of training; each chapter includes questions that help keep your mind engaged and thinking about how you can apply the ideas to your own situation, and exercises featuring concrete, real-world scenarios. There are also several sidebars that provide helpful hints or answers to questions, and a number of checklists you can use if you need reminders about specific topics covered, such as managing your e-mail habit or things to check before you click Send.
While the book seems to be designed primarily as a workbook—and I think most people would benefit most using it as such—you can also use it as a reference, or you can just read it through. It makes no assumptions about the e-mail application you use; rather, the focus is totally on the medium itself.
I have almost no complaints about this book. I spotted one factual error: in a sidebar about attachments, it states that “Creating and viewing PDF files requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader software,” which isn’t quite correct. You use Reader to view PDFs, but you can’t use it to create them. (Given the strengths of this book, I was surprised that this mistake slipped through.)
I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone who uses e-mail, professionally or personally, and I give it five out of five stars. You can order E-mail: A Write It Well Guide from Barnes and Noble.