As many emails as most of us send and receive daily, there are always ways to improve our email writing skills. I’ve compiled some tips and tricks to make your emails concise and clear, without omitting necessary information.
Email Writing Tip 1: When to Not Send an Email
The first trick to sending an email is knowing when not to send an email. Some information is better communicated over the phone or in person. Emails are intended to be brief and are not the best way to communicate time-sensitive information. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if an email is the best way to convey what you need to communicate:
- Do I need an immediate response? If so, opt for a phone call or walk to the person’s desk if they’re nearby. Don’t send an email.
- Is my message extremely detailed? If so, determine if it can be explained in three or fewer paragraphs. If not, don’t send an email. You may be able to write out everything you need to say as an attachment, but the body of your email should generally not be longer than three brief paragraphs.
- Is this information confidential, highly personal, or incriminating? If so, don’t send an email. Emails are legal documents and may be used in court as evidence. A phone call is a much better option for communicating about dicey subjects.
If in doubt, talking to someone on the phone or in person is probably a better option than sending an email. As much as I prefer typing out a quick reply, some topics need more explanation or sensitivity than an email is able to provide. Use your best judgment to determine when sending an email is an insufficient mode to convey your meaning. Communication is the goal, and sometimes an email is not the best means to clearly communicating.
Email Writing Tip 2: Start with a Clear Subject
If your message is appropriate to send via email, start with a brief subject line that clearly states what the message is about. Emails are often forwarded or searched for later, and a clear, descriptive subject line makes the information easier to locate. Instead of “Progress Report,” try adding the date and the project name to the subject line to make it distinctive from other similar emails (e.g., “12-15-2020 ABC Company Procedure Update Progress Report”). Yes, the date sent will be included as part of the email structure, but it’s better to provide more information than to leave the recipient searching for a pertinent detail. Respect the recipient’s time by providing needed information, and risk being redundant over being unclear.
Email Writing Tip 3: Email Signature
On that note, include your contact information in your email signature, especially in the first email of a thread. You should customize your email signature to include your name, job title, phone number, and email address. Some people argue that including an email address is redundant, but even if the recipient has your email address at the top of the email, including it in your signature is a courteous way to provide the best means of contacting you; and if an email is forwarded, your email address will not be as easy to locate. Generally, when sending an email, you expect a response, so make it easy for the recipient to reply to your email by phone or email. Some people opt to include a physical address, a company website, or pertinent quote as well. Contact your company’s HR department and pay attention to what is included in your co-workers’ email signatures to learn if there are standards and/or commonalities for email signatures within your company. You can usually customize what is included in your email signature, but an easy-to-read font with your name, company information, phone number(s), and email address should be the key components
Email Writing Tip 4: Polite Greeting and Sign-Off
Some appropriate sign-offs include sincerely, thank you, regards, and best wishes. Again, you can choose what best suits your particular email and personality, but do not neglect to add a closing salutation.
Start with a polite greeting appropriate for the recipient. Opinions vary as to the best greeting for a business email, but some standards are: Hi [Name of Recipient], Dear [Name of Recipient], and Greetings.
I tend to begin with “Hello” or “Hi” followed by the person’s first name. Invest a little time thinking about an appropriate greeting and sign-off, but don’t overthink it. If you’re spending too much time concerned about the minutiae of the email structure, then an email probably isn’t the best way to communicate. Some business emails are more formal and should include a more formal greeting.
Email Writing Tip 5: The Main Message
Once your subject line and signature are complete, you can turn your attention to the body of the email. Refrain from typing in all capitals to emphasize a point; it’s the same as screaming at someone. Use italics or underline sparingly if you want to highlight a particular word or phrase. Be brief, but thorough when composing your message. And always re-read to check for typos and reword anything that could be misconstrued before sending. I try to be polite, but direct in emails, and if the email contains multiple questions, I try to break them up into separate paragraphs or format them as a list. Any item that requires a direct response, such as a question, should be clearly separated from other text so it doesn’t get overlooked.
Email Writing Tip 6: Recipients
After your email is written, there are some pitfalls to avoid when sending an email. If there is a single recipient, the way forward is smooth, but when copying or forwarding a group email, you need to take extra care. Verify that the content is intended for all the recipients: some internal emails are not meant to be forwarded to clients, no matter how tactfully an issue is described. The best option is to paraphrase or copy and paste a small section of an email into a new email thread rather than forwarding in most cases.
Blind copying has a host of its own etiquette issues, and I recommend you avoid it unless your situation’s benefits heavily outweigh the cost of not being open about who all will be receiving the email communication.
Emails are a great tool for communicating brief, permanent information, but before you add to the clutter in someone’s inbox, it’s helpful to consider whether an email is the best mode, and if it is, take the time to craft a thoughtful email by choosing the correct format, audience, and message to include.
Interested in learning more? Contact us to learn about our Email Etiquette workshop.