How I Email: Megan Sharma, Author of “100 of Your Toughest Business Emails: Solved”
Email is a non-negotiable part of everyday life. For some, it’s an unruly time suck, but enlightened email users have systems to ensure they’re not a slave to the inbox. We’re asking smart thinkers to give us a peek inside their inboxes, share tips, ideas, gripes, and everything in between.
Megan Sharma is the author of “100 of Your Toughest Business Emails: Solved,” which offers plug-and-play language for writing all kinds of emails. The book draws on her years of experience as a professional ghostwriter for a fast-paced global IT consulting firm. Her next book, “Memoirs of a Surgeon’s Wife,” comes out on July 17.
What inspired you to write your book, “100 of Your Toughest Business Emails: Solved”?
I was sitting at my home office and I was thinking about my experience as a corporate communications manager. I was thinking, “I spent all these years doing this, and what did I really pick up from this experience that was unique? What did I learn from this?”
I realized that I’d learned a diplomatic way of saying pretty much anything — in email! It’s kind of a funny skill to have, but a lot of people struggle with writing emails, and it’s something that we all have to do for work and for personal reasons. I thought the book would be a good resource for people to refer back to when they don’t know what to say or when they need a more polite way to put things in writing.
What are some of the most important things to keep in mind when writing an email?
I studied journalism in college and wrote for newspapers for years in school. So I always remember the five Ws — who, what, when, where, why, and then you can add the how and the “Why should I care?” I generally use that as my basic structure.
You don’t have to follow it exactly when you write every email, but you want to make sure, first of all, that every email you’re sending has a purpose. It could be as simple as, “Well, I’m responding to this person’s email and answering the question.” You want to make sure you’re answering their question, not beating around the bush.
If you’re sharing a report or a document with someone, you need to be clear with them about what you’re sending and say: “I’m sending you this report on the budget, or whatever it may be, and here’s a summary of what it is, and here’s the feedback I would like from you, and here is the timeline that I would like it by.” Timeline is critical — I would say people forget that far too often.
What are your email pet peeves?
The biggest email faux pas — that we’re probably all guilty of — is replacing what needs to be an in-person conversation or a phone call with an email. We forget that it’s not a good idea to send an email if we’re really angry, or if we don’t want a written record of what we’re about to say. That can get lots of us into trouble. Worst of all, if you can’t handle the consequences of hitting send, then you definitely should not send an email. I think generally, we get a little lazy with email sometimes when we should really just pick up the phone.
Another peeve is if you don’t proofread, especially if you’re writing an email on your phone and auto correct gets you, which happens to me sometimes, too.
What’s one last thing people should keep in mind about email?
You need to make sure that you are tailoring your message to your audience. So many of us work with colleagues all around the world, so it’s important to be aware of when people may have English as a second language or might not speak American English.
International colleagues may not understand the slang that you’re using or they may not understand your sports analogies. For example, if you say, “Oh, we pulled a Hail Mary.” Somebody might not know what that means, unless they’re a football fan. So, just be aware of how our messages might be received.