How To Write Effective Emails

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emailEmail has for many become the curse of today’s paperless office. They pile up faster than you can process them. The fact that many emails are impossible to understand, or completely pointless, doesn’t help.

This post lists five principles that will help you write more effective emails that benefit both you and the reader.

Paired with effective filtering and inbox management you stand a much better chance of persevering on the email battlefield.

Concise but Courteous

As people’s inboxes grow ever bigger, being concise and to the point becomes increasingly important to help people manage the mail flood.

An email that is too short might come across as rude and arrogant. You want to be brief and to the point, but a minimal level of courtesy is assumed and also makes conversations easier to follow.

Review the email before you hit the send button. Check spelling. Make sure you understand what you’re trying to say yourself. If it is an important email with many recipients, consider reading it out loud.

Here’s an example of a concise and courteous email:

John Doe <johndoe@devoteddeveloper.com>
to me

Jane,

Could you please send me the latest draft of the SoW?

Thanks,
John

Separation of Subjects

Only address one item in an email. If you have more things to cover, consider sending separate emails.

While this increases the total amount of emails, each one becomes easier to follow and process. Potentially, it also reduces the number of people included in topic threads.

Assist the Addressee

Make it as easy as possible for the reader to understand what she needs to do.

Start an informative email “FYI” (For Your Information) or “NO ACTION REQUIRED”. In a similar manner, state actions or requests clearly.

Make use of paragraphs and formatting such as highlighting.

Here’s an example:

John Doe <johndoe@devoteddeveloper.com>
to me

(NO ACTION REQUIRED)

I have talked to Jane about the plan, and she had some comments that we will discuss at the project meeting next week. Please note that the meeting tomorrow is cancelled.

BR
John

Carbon Copy Correctness

When sending an email to multiple recipients, make proper use of the CC (Carbon Copy) field.

Don’t put people that are main recipients in the CC field and vice versa. For example, don’t add people to the CC field if you delegate an action point to them.

As a general rule, treat the CC field as a FYI field.

Always start emails with the addressee’s name. Not only is it courteous and makes the email more personal: it also helps when you CC people. It is easy to overlook that you have only been copied. Stating the primary recipient clearly upfront helps recipients process the email appropriately.

Recipient Restraint

Show restraint when adding people to the recipient list.

Sometimes it is better to forward an email with “FYI” instead of copying people on the original email. For example when you predict a long conversation with someone abusing “reply to all” and you only want to inform a third party of the initial email content.

If people are added mid-conversation it might be helpful to state it in the email somehow. For example writing “+John” if John is added to the thread. Here’s an example of that:

John Doe <johndoe@devoteddeveloper.com>
to me, Aaron

Jane,

+Aaron (attended the last meeting)

Good to hear you make progress. Please share the document with both Aaron and me.

Thanks,
John

John,

We have started working on a draft for the SoW. We will share it with you when a first draft is ready.

BR
Jane


That’s all for now. Add a comment below if you have your own tips on how to write effect emails!

Make sure to check out the post about Zero Inbox and Gmail as well.

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