Written Communication: Refining Email, at Work

In their day to day, librarians and lawyers need to tailor their writing to fit various contexts and audiences. Web content, academic scholarship, and work emails all require different writing styles and levels of formality, but the undergirding principles of effective written communication are the same. Effective writing has brevity, clarity, and the correct tone. While these principles are emphasized in formal writing, they are sometimes overlooked with less formal communications such as workplace email messages. However, email are vital modes of communication and many resources exist to help lawyers and librarians refine their written communication skills.

Editing Tools

Before sending an email, one can copy and paste the text into an online writing and grammar editing tool, such as Grammarly. As seen below, Grammarly’s free version checks for correctness, clarity, engagement, and delivery. More advanced writing features, such as tone suggestions, are available with Grammarly Premium.

Grammarly Editor, (Oct. 18, 2021), https://app.grammarly.com

Grammarly also has a free plugin for Google Chrome that will edit emails in the browser directly. Tools similar to Grammarly include:

Grammarly Google Chrome Plugin.

Strategies for Improving Emails

            Lawyers and librarians may also benefit from resources targeted at improving the content of emails, as well as those that offer tips on using email more effectively. Some tips include:

  • The time of day, even the day of the week, can make a difference whether someone responds or even reads your email.
  • You can send an email at a targeted time, such as at the start of the workday or right after the lunch hour when people are most likely to be checking their email. Note that sending an email at a scheduled time may delay the email until you open your email client.

The Harvard Business Review published “The Essential Guide to Crafting a Work Email” that discusses email etiquette.

Some tips include:

  • Use proper capitalization and punctuation.
  • Use emojis sparingly, unless there is a context where they are appropriate (such as mimicking the recipient’s writing style).
  • Break up paragraphs.
  • The number of revisions an email should have depends on how many recipients there are.
    • 1 to 5 recipients: 2 to 4 revisions
    • 5 to 10 recipients: 8 to 12 revisions
    • Company-wide or to executive committee (or analogous bodies): 30 to 50 revisions

Additional Resources

            For further reading, lawyers and librarians can visit the following resources for inspiration and guidance:

Written by: Aaisha M. Sanaullah, L’22, Richmond School of Law

NOTE: The VALL Spring 2021 meeting, held on May 13, focused topics of communications and data in law libraries. In breakout rooms, participants explored these topics in four separate sessions. For the benefit of VALL members and others, we're publishing meeting materials in a series of blog posts.

- Roger V. Skalbeck, VALL President, 2021-2022

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