Everyone is still trying to solve the email problem. We continue to write about better email etiquette and try to wipe our inboxes clean. Some developer is hunched over trying to develop the next great email app. Gmail and Yahoo are buying anyone in sight who half-succeeds.
But we don’t talk too much about the most basic habit of all – the art of writing better emails.
The email hall of infamy is littered with carcasses of careers destroyed and faces reddened because of an email faux passé. But hold on. This little post isn’t about the bad news. It is about the neat little tools that can get you ahead in the email writing department. Here are five cool (and new) email writing tools we picked up from the far corners of the web.
Scott Hanselman said that “emails are where keystrokes go to die”. True. Be brief and crystal clear. Just pretend that you are reaching out to Mark Zuckerberg and he doesn’t have much time.
MailMentor is a basic free tool that can quickly tell if your email is reader-friendly. Paste your email in the textbox and the single-page tool goes to work. Check the time it will take to read, the reading level (go for 5th to 6th Grade or a little higher), and a few more recommended changes. After a few such copy and pastes, you will get the hang of simplifying your emails.
Try this fun tool from Scott to find out how may keystrokes you have left in your hand. Copy-paste the email signature to let your prolific friends know about your intentions.
Writing in Markdown combines formatting elegance with speed. But Gmail has ignored it so far. If you are a coder or a developer, writing in Markdown should come easily to you. If not, it’s easy to learn.
Markdown Here is a free cross-browser extension that helps you write emails in the web’s simplest markup language. Open the compose email box and then type down Markdown text. Right click on the empty space in the email and select the “Markdown Toggle” option from the resulting context menu. The Markdown text is converted to normal text with the formatting you specify in the Markdown syntax.
Markdown Here is available for the Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera web browsers, and the Thunderbird and Postbox email applications.
The unstylish way of using templates is to save them as drafts and canned responses. So, why not notch up your productivity with templates created with a free Chrome extension? It works for Gmail, Outlook.com, and Yahoo. More advanced team features come with a paid account. Also, save email time with keyboard shortcuts for the mundane responses.
Templates save us from the bother of typing the same stuff to the point of nausea. Take your time setting up the template messages – a cover letter for a job, a sales pitch to a client, or a simple acknowledgement letter. Reduce your email gaffes by using carefully crafted emails and not firing from your hip before the morning coffee.
A typo can be a deal breaker. Even if you are racing the clock, take time to go through your email before hitting send. Or trust a spelling and grammar checking tool.
The Grammarly Chrome extension is vastly improved from its earlier avatar. The contextual tool checks for 250 advanced grammar rules and accompanies errors with correct suggestions. The spinning wheel at the corner of a text box is a slight irritant. And I wish the developers would have an option to disable the checker when we want to. These two quirks aside, Grammarly is a good fail-safe to have around — second to your eyes.
A free iOS app that could be your introduction to the “Too Long, Didn’t Read movement”. It works with Gmail. Write the TL;DR message first (up to 30 words. Then, if still needed, add as much text as you like. When you are the recipient, the app extracts the first words of each email and turns it into a post like a social media feed. You can dive into the full email if need be. Keep it short. Save time for everyone.
Maybe soon, we will follow this up with neat tools to cut short the time you spend on email. In the meantime, don’t forget these excellent Chrome extensions for Gmail productivity. Now, get away from that inbox for a second. Tell us about your email disasters and the lessons learned.