“This meeting could have been an e-mail” has been a common office joke; the idea is that rather than use up workers’ valuable time, the information could have simply been presented in an e-mail. But consider what an entire meeting’s worth of information would look like in e-mail format: a long, dense manuscript many are sure to simply skim, if they read it at all.
The fact is people are busy. Whether it’s a meeting or a long e-mail, some will find the time to attend or read and engage, and some will not. But if you decide to replace a meeting with an e-mail, there are strategies you can use to make the information more digestible and attention-grabbing.
Headings are an underused tool in corporate e-mail writing. If your e-mail has more than three or four paragraphs, ask yourself whether it makes sense to insert a heading or two; they can help summarize key points, as well as help readers quickly find their place if they lose track or need to reread the e-mail later.
Using bold, highlighting, or color is a great way to draw attention to key text within large paragraphs. This might include action items for the e-mail recipient (it’s a lot harder to say you didn’t know you had an action item when your name is highlighted and bolded next to said action item) or calling out things like dollar amounts, deadlines, or specific and important terms. And just like with headings, bolding, highlighting, and color variation also let readers easily find key information when rereading.
Many meetings probably could be e-mails, but are people going to read those e-mails? They’re much more likely to do so if the information is well organized instead of an intimidating block of plain text. Therefore, using tools like headings and text formatting can go a long way toward making e-mails more digestible and increasing the likelihood they will be read and acted upon.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.