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Rebecca Vermillion Shawver, MPA, GPC

About Rebecca

Writing Effective and Professional Emails for Agency Based Grant Professionals

For most grant professionals, sending emails is as natural as breathing air. We do it without thinking much about how our messages will be perceived. I would like to offer some simple rules and advice on how to get the most out of your emails to coworkers, proposal development team members, and administrators.

Use Proper English and Grammar

Unless you are using bullet points, always compose your messages in full sentences using proper grammar and spelling. We’re professionals and should always present ourselves as such. Misspellings and fragments do nothing to build confidence in our abilities to write winning grant proposals.

Stick to Work Topics

Don’t use emails to professional colleagues to share jokes and cartoons. These types of messages do nothing to enhance your work productivity and can lead to personnel issues when your sense of humor isn’t shared by the recipients.

Don’t share your personal opinions or political agenda via emails. If you’re that close with your colleagues, you might want share this type of information on Facebook or another social media outlet.

Remember, if your messages are considered inappropriate or in bad taste, they can lead to strained relationships and workplace problems. More importantly, they have nothing to do with developing, writing, or submitting grant applications.

Stay Focused

I personally hate email messages that change topics with each new sentence or paragraph. Keep to one topic per message. If you have multiple issues to address or information to disseminate, send more than one email. Keep your messages on point.

Use Email to Document Work-related Conversations

Sometimes, you will find the need to document conversations for the record. It is very appropriate to send an email that summarizes such personal interactions. Furthermore, I personally recommend that you request a delivery receipt and save it in your files. Many times, I have needed to refer to such records to remind me why a decision was made and who was involved. I have found this particularly true for discussions focused on setting program outcomes and deliverables.

Don’t Deliver Bad or Unexpected News by Email

Some messages should always be delivered in person. For example, if you have determined that a grant application is not going to be submitted and you know your grant team members will be dismayed at learning this, call or go see each of them individually. Bad news is always easier to hear when delivered personally. Besides, your colleagues will most certainly have questions and you should be prepared to ease the blow by taking the time addresses their concerns.

Always Include Your Contact Information in Your Signature Block

Nothing is more frustrating to me than to receive a message from someone that doesn’t include their phone number. Far too many times, I have had to google the person to find a contact number. Be polite and give your recipients this information upfront. They will really appreciate it and will encourage them to call you to talk about issues at hand.

Use the Subject Line to Highlight the Purpose of Your Message

If you need comments or suggested revisions on your latest proposal’s draft by a set deadline, tell your readers that in the subject line. Chances are much greater that they will open your message in plenty of time to respond. Simply typing the name of the proposed project in the subject line doesn’t indicate that your request needs immediate attention.

Don’t Mark It as “high Importance” Unless It Really Is

Receiving an email message that is tagged “high importance” draws my immediate attention. But when I open the message and find that it really isn’t all that important, I lose trust in the colleague that sent it to me. So please reserve this designation for only those messages that are truly of upmost importance or in need of immediate action.

Don’t Place Unreasonable Turn-around times on Your Request for Responses

Respect your colleagues by not expecting them to drop everything they are working on to address your personal wants and needs. Lack of planning ahead on your part doesn’t allow you to make it an emergency on their part. Good team leaders are respectful of others’ time and workloads.

Don’t Use Email to Schedule a Meeting – That’s What Outlook Is For

I absolutely hate it when an in-house colleague sends out an email to schedule a meeting. Isn’t that what Outlook is for? So check your colleagues’ schedules and invite them to attend a meeting that will fit into their busy days. Then, send out an invite through Outlook (or whatever program your agency uses). They will only need to click once to accept. Reserve emails for messages.

Respect Your Colleagues’ Time

Don’t write a lengthy message when a sentence of two will do. If a longer message is required, use bullet points, bold typeface, underlining, and red text to highlight the most important information. As grant professionals, we use these techniques in our proposals all the time to ensure that reviewers don’t miss any key information. So why not use these same devices in your emails?

Don’t “Reply to All” When Unnecessary

Whatever you may want to say, direct it only to the people who need to know what you have to tell them. Nobody wants unnecessary messages. The folks that repeatedly “reply to all” are not making friends or building confidence in their professionalism.

Don’t cc: Copy the Entire Agency

If you are having problems with a colleague, don’t cc: copy the entire agency with your concerns. This is not only unprofessional, it will lead to the exacerbation of whatever your issue may be. Again, strong team leaders never openly criticize or “tattle” on team members to the entire team. If you have a problem that is impeding team progress, talk to your coworker’s supervisor – not their coworkers.

Don’t Use Email to Berate or Openly Disagree with an In-house Coworker or a Colleague Outside of Your Agency

Never forget that any email you send out may quite possibly land in your own personnel file – and once sent, your messages can’t be unsent after your anger or frustrations fade.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Always assume that your words will be permanently saved and stored on at least one recipient’s computer. Don’t jeopardize your reputation or objectivity by being careless with your words.

Using Emoticons Is Acceptable Sometimes

Not everyone will agree with me, but I use emoticons to soften some requests or less than desirable information. The recipients of my messages can’t visually see my dismay at sharing baseline data that doesn’t support our needs, my appreciation for their efforts, etc. So I will sparingly use happy or sad faces to lighten the somewhat cold and impersonal nature of my emails.

In summary, your ability to professionally communicate via emails is key to your overall success as a grant professional. Make certain that you think about the impact of your message and communication style before you hit the send button.


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