How to Write Better Emails

How to Write Better Emails

We’re all guilty of saying, “I get so much email.” But have you ever thought about all the emails you send? Changing the way you write email can help you in ways you never imagined. By writing emails in a particular format, you teach others how you like to read emails – turning your inbox into a bastion of productivity. Follow our tips to teach your clients, colleagues and personal contacts how to contact you without overwhelming you, so that you can take control of your email.

From, To and Copying Etiquette:

Make sure “From” is your name, and not your company’s, which is confusing. You can change this by going into your email settings.

Reduce your recipients. If you’re sending an email to more than one person, ask yourself why each person needs it. Remove any unnecessary recipients, and ask to be taken off any lists where you’re unnecessary.

If people keep copying you on emails, reply with “Relevant?” Explain beforehand this isn’t a criticism but a way to reduce email overload for everyone, and encourage them to do the same to you as well.

Use BCC with caution. BCC is appropriate when you’re sending emails to large groups who don’t know each other’s emails, like a party invitation, or when you need to hide someone from a conversation for some reason. Otherwise, BCC is slightly rude and runs the risk of confusing you. Send separate emails instead.

Writing Appropriate Subject Lines:

Subject lines should summarize the content, so you catch your recipients’ attention as she scans her inbox. Fit the whole email into the subject line if you can, adding [EOM] to symbolize End of Message. Edit any uninformative subject lines (eg Hey) to teach others how to send you emails.

Use action brackets in your subject lines to inform your recipient what to do with this email, says Julia Roy of WorkHacks. Sample brackets include [Action Needed], [Followup Needed] and [FYI…NRN (no response needed)]. Use brackets that work for you.

Your Best Content:

Be precise! Make your emails as clear as possible to avoid confusing your recipients. Ask specific questions, requesting feedback on paragraph 5 of the report and not all of it. Skip open-ended questions and give options instead. Try including a default non-response action: “If you don’t respond by tomorrow at 3PM, I’ll book the meeting room.”

Keep it short. Guy Kawasaki recommends limiting your emails to 5 sentences to keep your messages simple and polite. Follow this rule even when you receive a pages-long email to teach others to communicate with you via other means.

Follow forwarding etiquette. Never forward a whole chain to someone. Not only is it rude, you run the risk of getting  into trouble if there are inappropriate messages you forgot about. Edit forwarded messages and explain any information you left out.

Format properly. Put the important points at the top of your email to save time, elaborating as you go. Your emails should never be a long chunk of text. Use bullets, numbers, paragraphs and hyperlinks so it’s easy to read.

Add action items. If you send an email to six people, separate them by initials at the end of the email and tell them exactly what they should do with this information. Don’t assume it will be obvious.

Send multiple emails. It seems counterintuitive to break emails up. But having too many topics in one email results in information that’s hard to find, trapped in a long email chain. If you have more than 3 topics, send 3 separate emails to keep ensuing conversations clear. Do this also if you’re mixing controversial topics with mundane ones.

Create an email signature. If you’re often asked the same question, consider putting the information in your signature. Try putting in your title, office address, phone number and maybe a recent articles about your company. Just make sure to edit it out when you don’t want that information sent to a particular person.

Shortcuts and Apps:

Send the same basic email a lot? Create a template to save time. You should also create a ‘group’ or ‘distribution list’ if you frequently email the same group. And if you use the same word or phrase, get a text expander. These tools expand a few keystrokes into long words or phrases – find a great list here.

Keep forgetting to respond to emails? Try LetterMeLater, which allows you to pre-schedule when you want to send email as listed here. You can also try a paid service like Boomerang for Gmail.

Did we miss your favorite email tips? How do you keep your inbox from overflowing? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook, or Tweet us @SuperheroYou! You can also check out more email management tips here.

Photo Credit: Robert Scoble via Compfight cc

Written by Sasha Graffagna