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Top 10 Tips to Write Effective Emails

Top 10 Tips to Write Effective Emails

I don’t know about you, but I get a good amount of emails every single day. We’re talking a minimum of about 50-100 emails a day that I absolutely have to read, generally more. This of course doesn’t include the emails that I can skim or just ignore. These are in the absolutely need to read, critical emails.

And as such, I’ve noticed over time that some emails are much much easier to read than other. There’s so much of a difference that some emails I cringe at the thought of having to read them whereas others I’m almost looking forward to reading them. We all make snap decisions on whether an email will be pleasant to read or not with just a single glance, before we even know what it’s about!

Which is why today I’m going to share with you the Top 10 Tips I’ve come up with that can improve any email. These tips will prevent your emails from being ignored, or being put on hold because the receiver is not looking forward to reading them. I’m going to give you some simple tips to improve your emailing.

1. Use sentences

I really hate to have to bring this up, but it must be said, and it must be said first and foremost. When you write an email, use sentences. The first letter of the first word of a new sentence should be uppercase. It’s important because it makes your email that much more readable. I’ve received too many emails where all the letters were lowercase. It might not seem like a big issue but it definitely makes reading any email much harder. Especially if you have longer paragraphs. Then it just becomes brutal!! If you’re guilty of this and you don’t believe me, try having someone send you a full page with no sentences. You’ll be surprised at how hard it is to read.

2. Break it up into paragraphs

You might not be writing a paper, but I can’t stress how much it helps if you break up your email into paragraphs. That is logical groups of sentences that deal with a specific theme or thought. Having a full page of text with no paragraphs is also almost impossible to read. You start to lose context. You lose focus of where you’re at. It makes it really hard. And good luck trying to respond to such an email in parts.

3. Re-read your emails

Please please please re-read your emails. Too many emails are quickly written and not even re-read once. It’s obvious when you get one of these. Nothing makes sense. The sentences don’t even make sense. It’s all over the place. Not all the time, but many times it’s hard to just understand what the other person is trying to say. Please be careful to re-read your emails if at all possible, especially if you’re asking for something. It can make a huge difference.

4. Take a minute to write a good subject title

Many times the decision on whether to read an email now or later, or if at all, is made by just reading the subject title. Now I’m not talking about writing headlines that attract people to your emails like spammy emails do. I’m talking about writing subjects that will make sense to the person receiving the email. For example, if your email is about a company meeting, then make sure to reference that in the subject. Basically make it obvious to the person receiving it what the email is about because it really helps. Not only that, but it also makes looking for emails later on that much easier. What, you mean the email you sent me about our decision to use Malbolge as our programming language, let me see if I can’t find it. There’s nothing here, I’ll have to do a full search, give me a few minutes to find it because there’s a few dozen emails that appeared in the search results. Ugh.

5. Keep it short if possible

Unless it’s a personal correspondence, you generally want to keep your emails as short and sweet as possible. It’s great that you can write amazing poetic and elegant verses, but when it comes to business please keep it as simple and as much to the point as possible.

6. Be careful of the tone

Unfortunately with email, it’s very easy to say something one way and have the other person take it in a completely different way. Tone is something that’s easy to do with a phone call but hard to convey by email. This is why you sometimes see emoticons (more for personal emails), so that you can make sure the person correctly interprets your tone. Whether or not you use emoticons, because in many situations they aren’t appropriate, be very careful what you write so that it cannot be interpreted in a wrong way.

7. Make it respond-able

This goes back a lot to tip #2, “Break it up into paragraphs”. Basically if you want someone to reply, try to break up your email into chunks, chunks that make it easier for the person to reply and respond to. For example avoid writing 10 questions in one paragraph, break each question into it’s own line, or something like that.

8. Avoid background images and pictures in your signature

They may look cute on your computer, but it’s much harder for other people to read. That and not all systems that read email are able to display them correctly. On top of this they sometimes make your email much harder to read. I’ve seen some background images that made reading the text virtually impossible until I copy & pasted it out into another application. If someone has to do this, odds are they won’t read it.

9. Correctly setup your from email address

A lot of people forget to setup their from email address, and this is unfortunate. The reason you want to set this up is to let people know who is sending the email. Sure it’s cool to see the email address, but sometimes it’s even better to have a name. I may not know that myCoolEmailAddress23423@landlordmax.com is your email address and may therefore ignore it, or assume it’s unimportant. Instead let me see your name so I don’t have to make the association between you and some random email address.

10. Avoid attachments

If at all possible, put the text in the email itself. As cool as it is to write a Word document, a PowerPoint presentation, a PDF, and so on, if at all possible please put the content directly in the email. The odds of someone reading your email quickly decrease if they have to open up attachments. It’s one more step that’s annoying, especially if there’s no reason for it. And there’s also the possibility of viruses because how can I trust your attachment is safe for my computer. As well, if I ever have to look up what we said, I can’t do a search through the file attachments. This means that the only way I can find your message is by opening the messages and attachments one by one. That’s brutal!!

Bonus Tip 1: Don’t assume your email will remain private. Yes, all emails are suppose to be confidential, but the unfortunate reality is that this isn’t always the case. Therefore be attentive and careful about what you write because you never know where the email will end up. InĀ  most cases it’s ok, but you never know.

Bonus Tip 2: Not all emails are urgent. I can’t stress this enough. I know of a few people that mark almost all of their emails as urgent. This is actually quite annoying. Not only that, but have you ever heard of the story of the boy who cried wolf too many times? That’s what will eventually happen.



 
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Comments:

  •     David Hay
    · May 19th, 2011  · 10:20 pm  · Permalink

    Good article. I think most people actually know how to write a much better email than they end up doing, but there’s just something about the act of emailing that makes some people just decide to ignore everything they know about writing. For #5 I agree in principle, but if it’s a technical matter (as it often is for software developers) I prefer it if people give me all the relevant info in the email — even if it makes it long — than to try to gloss over it and leave me having to call them for a follow-up (which we then have no text record of to refer to later).

    Oh, and I think you actually meant the story of the boy who cried wolf at the end, not the three little pigs.

  •     Steph
    · May 20th, 2011  · 1:11 pm  · Permalink

    Hi David,

    Thank you. And I completely agree with you. In most cases it’s just people trying to do something quickly with minimal effort, and I’ve been guilty of it more than once!

    I also apologize for #5, I wasn’t trying to say leave out info, what I meant was say what you want to say. This is one I’m really bad with myself that I continually have to work on. Basically if what you want to say can be said in a few paragraphs, then do so. Don’t write pages of text that are really just extra material. My favorite self quote from an email that I’m guilty of writing, that I was called on, was the words “froth with risk”, I should’ve just said risky or high risk. Another example is the magazine The Economist. It’s a great magazine that’s well written with a lot of thought put in each article. But please don’t write an email in that style to me if you can avoid it. Verbose is ok, but long words and elegant prose are too time consuming for day to day emails.

    And thank you very much for the tip, you’re absolutely right!!! I just fixed it. That just goes to say that even after re-reading and re-editing something about a dozen times still isn’t enough to get something perfect. I’ve just fixed it. Thank you again David!

  •     Keith
    · June 30th, 2011  · 7:24 am  · Permalink

    What I really like about what you’ve said here is that there’s an appreciation of the fact that an email should be seen as being important.

    Too many people, I feel, neglect to think about them in this way. It may be because they are seen as being “immediate”. Personally, I try to take as much care in writing an email as I would in writing an old-fashioned letter.

    Nice to read your views.

  •     Steph
    · June 30th, 2011  · 10:03 am  · Permalink

    Hi Keith,

    Thank you. And yes, that’s essential my point. Too many people treat emails below the level of importance that they are. I shouldn’t need to struggle to understand your communication, be it email, an old fashion letter, etc.

  •     Casey Strouse
    · July 24th, 2011  · 1:36 am  · Permalink

    I think point #7 is one of the ones that people don’t think about much. When I first started I would agonize over writing great copy for the emails but then wouldn’t have a solid call to action. This ended me up with weak results.

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