Writing Effective Emails
1. Don’t Overcommunicate by Email
As part of this, you should use the phone or IM to deal with questions that are likely to need some back-and-forth discussion. Use our Communications Planning Tool to identify the channels that are best for different types of message.
Also, email is not as secure as you might want it to be, particularly as people may forward emails without thinking to delete the conversation history. So avoid sharing sensitive or personal information in an email, and don’t write about anything that you, or the subject of your email, wouldn’t like to see plastered on a billboard by your office.
2. Make Good Use of Subject Lines
A newspaper headline has two functions: it grabs your attention, and it summarizes the article, so that you can decide whether to read it or not. The subject line of your email message should do the same thing.
You may want to include the date in the subject line if your message is one of a regular series of emails, such as a weekly project report. For a message that needs a response, you might also want to include a call to action, such as “Please reply by November 7.”
A well-written subject line like the one below delivers the most important information, without the recipient even having to open the email. This serves as a prompt that reminds recipients about your meeting every time they glance at their inbox.
If you have a very short message to convey, and you can fit the whole thing into the subject line, use “EOM” (End of Message) to let recipients know that they don’t need to open the email to get all the information that they need.
3. Keep Messages Clear and Brief
Emails, like traditional business letters, need to be clear and concise. Keep your sentences short and to the point. The body of the email should be direct and informative, and it should contain all pertinent information. See our article on writing skills for guidance on communicating clearly in writing.
Unlike traditional letters, however, it costs no more to send several emails than it does to send just one. So, if you need to communicate with someone about a number of different topics, consider writing a separate email for each one. This makes your message clearer, and it allows your correspondent to reply to one topic at a time.
Thanks for sending that report last week. I read it yesterday, and I feel that Chapter 2 needs more specific information about our sales figures. I also felt that the tone could be more formal.
Also, I wanted to let you know that I’ve scheduled a meeting with the PR department for this Friday regarding the new ad campaign. It’s at 11:00 a.m. and will be in the small conference room.
It’s important to find balance here. You don’t want to bombard someone with emails, and it makes sense to combine several, related, points into one email. When this happens, keep things simple with numbered paragraphs or bullet points, and consider “chunking” information into small, well-organized units to make it easier to digest.
Notice, too, that in the good example above, Monica specified what she wanted Jackie to do (in this case, amend the report). If you make it easy for people to see what you want, there’s a better chance that they will give you this.
4. Be Polite
People often think that emails can be less formal than traditional letters. But the messages you send are a reflection of your own professionalism , values, and attention to detail, so a certain level of formality is needed.
Unless you’re on good terms with someone, avoid informal language, slang, jargon , and inappropriate abbreviations. Emoticons can be useful for clarifying your intent, but it’s best to use them only with people you know well.
5. Check the Tone
When we meet people face-to-face, we use the other person’s body language , vocal tone, and facial expressions to assess how they feel. Email robs us of this information, and this means that we can’t tell when people have misunderstood our messages.
Your choice of words, sentence length, punctuation, and capitalization can easily be misinterpreted without visual and auditory cues. In the first example below, Emma might think that Harry is frustrated or angry, but, in reality, he feels fine.
Finally, before you hit “send,” take a moment to review your email for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Your email messages are as much a part of your professional image as the clothes you wear, so it looks bad to send out a message that contains typos.
As you proofread, pay careful attention to the length of your email. People are more likely to read short, concise emails than long, rambling ones, so make sure that your emails are as short as possible, without excluding necessary information.
Remember that your emails are a reflection of your professionalism, values, and attention to detail. Try to imagine how others might interpret the tone of your message. Be polite, and always proofread what you have written before you click “send.”
The good side of email communication: it’s quick, simple and traceable
Few people would want to do away with email altogether. It says something about the power of email that it is still a dominant form of communication, at least in a work context, despite the arrival of all the various messaging tools (such as WhatsApp) and collaboration tools (like Microsoft Teams and Slack).
Too often, I find people lose control of email by constantly reacting to new messages as they arrive in their inbox, rather than being proactive and having processes in place for how they deal with them. Let’s face it: if you react to every email as it arrives, you could easily spend your entire day doing nothing more than that. That’s hardly very productive (unless responding to email is your one and only job).
7. Using jargon words
Only 21% of communicators keep their language jargon-free. This means that more than ¾ of people are still using industry slang in their emails. So, though it may seem like the norm, you need to take a closer look and pay more attention to your word use.
Sure, Dave in the cubicle next to you probably knows what plug-and-play means. But, when someone has to send your email thread to a client, they will have no clue. You will put yourself in the awkward position of having to explain terms and wasting everyone’s time in the process.
Note that not everyone will know what you’re talking about when you use jargon. You may think this is okay now, for whatever level you’re communicating on, but try to get out of the habit ASAP. Otherwise, you’re going to waste time and energy explaining niche terms to people who have no need to know.