Using the PAR structure in emails

productivity_Dec12_CEmail is now the most essential form of communication in business. Over the years, email has become much more informal than when it was first introduced. Sure, this makes it feel more natural, but there can be times when this casual style leads to misunderstanding, and in turn this can lead to lost productivity. There is, however, one effective way you can structure important emails to avoid this, and that’s by using PAR.

Better email structure for small businesses

In order for your emails to be clearer and to get the overall message across easily, you might want to implement a PAR structure. This three part framework has been used by many business owners and managers to improve overall communications, and consists of:

Problem

At the very top of the email, below the salutation, provide a brief yet clear overview of the problem which is the subject of the email or the reason you are making contact. When writing this overview don’t assume anything, including shared knowledge or agreements, unless you have discussed these with all recipients beforehand. The key here is that you are looking to be able to summarize the main issue.

If you need more than two paragraphs, then you should probably create a longer form report that is attached in the email. The reason for this is because the vast majority of people will simply scan an email, and if it’s too long, they will usually skip it, or possibly miss key points. If it is easy to scan and read, then there is a greater chance all parties will be on the same page.

Beyond this, if you are struggling to come up with a short explanation or can’t clearly summarize the problem in writing, then email may not be the best medium to be using. Opt instead for a meeting or phone call to discuss the issue more fully.

Action

After stating what the problem is, clearly mark any proposed actions or recommendations using a relevant heading, then specifically lay them out in an easy to read format. You want to be as specific as possible here, ensuring that all parties understand what you want to happen and the actions they will need to take as a result.

For example, if you use vague language, such as: “I need this by the end of the month”, people may only carry out what you are asking for on the very last day of the month. Instead, you might be better to give a specific delivery date, and possibly a set time, so that any deadlines are clearly defined. Bulleted and numbered lists can really help here, as long as they are clear and understandable and don’t muddle the issue.

Results

Finally, identify the expected results based on the actions you want the recipients to take. This helps ensure that every recipient knows what they should be striving for, as well as serving as an indicator of whether the problem has been specifically solved or not.

If the results aren’t met, you have a good opportunity to look back at the process and see if there is any room for improvement, or try to pinpoint exactly why something went wrong or didn’t happen as you planned. This in turn, if leveraged correctly, can help improve overall productivity.

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