1. Keep it short and to the point. Everyone is busy. We skim and look for key points. After you’ve written it as a draft, go back and cut it in half.
2. Make the subject line a summary. Allow me to find your message in my inbox by using keywords in the subject line. Describe your message in your subject line.
3. Start and end with the word, “you.” Too many people start their email with “I”, as in “I want to let you know that…”. Want to engage your reader? Address your reader’s self interest. Start your first paragraph with the word “You” and include something like “you asked me…” or “you wanted… ” or “you mentioned” or “you need.” Start your last paragraph with “you” again and stress what your reader will get out of doing whatever it is that you’re asking.
4. Only one topic per message. The last time you sent a message with 5 topics or requests, you probably noticed that the reader only acted on one of them. Here’s a solution to that problem: ask for only one thing or speak about only one topic or idea per email. Those additional messages you’d like to include are much more likely to get lost when grouped together in the same email. Break up the messages. And remember to use the subject line to describe the topic.
5. Use appropriate tone. Be careful to be respectful in your tone. Sarcasm, parody, and irony are hard to put into cold, hard black and white text. Review your email before you send it, checking for anything which might be misinterpreted. You never know who might receive your forwarded email. My mother used to say, “If you wouldn’t be happy with me reading it, don’t write it.” Mom was right, of course.
6. Remember it’s not private. What you write on your company computers belongs to the company, and your personal email can get called up in court. People who want to and know how can snoop in email. Never write in email anything that is embarrassing to you or your recipient, inappropriate or illegal. If in doubt, save it as a draft and read it later (or tomorrow). Then delete it. That’s right, delete it.
7. Don’t send extra copies. It’s a message, not an archive or a vault. We all hate those cover-your-backside extra copies going all over email to anybody who might vaguely someday accuse you of not having sent something, or handled something, or followed up. Send your email to the people it’s intended for, and nobody else. If you must copy to someone else as a reference, use “Cc”. The “To” field is reserved for those who need to take action on the subject. The “Cc”
field is for those who simply need to be kept in touch. The same applies to ‘replies’. “Reply all” to only those that need to take action (“To” field) and need to be informed (“Cc” field) on the topic in which you send.
8. Respect spelling and grammar. Your email is a reflection on you and the company you represent. You wouldn’t head out of your house to an important meeting without looking for stains on your shirt or lipstick on your teeth. Make sure your spelling and grammar aren’t equally embarrassing. Spell check is available on most email platforms these days, if not, you can copy and paste into Microsoft Word.
9. Email isn’t for arguments. Angry words sent to someone cannot be retrieved. There’s no email eraser. Never argue in email. Walk down the hall or get on the phone. Likewise, I’ve learned this myself the hard way, thinking my brilliant use of the English language could somehow make a point better than I could with old-fashioned talk. It never does. Email almost never wins a point or stops an argument. It almost always makes things worse, not better.
10. Mind those threads. Most of our email software builds long emails like kids build snowballs rolling downhill. Each new email is gathered up below in the thread. Is there anybody out there who hasn’t at least once realized in dismay, too late, that you’ve accidentally emailed a long thread that included too much information or some embarrassing comment about somebody along the way. Aside from that problem, there is just the plain glut of useless information as every new email in the thread includes all of the previous emails. Think of how much sludge we’re sending through the pipeline. Does everybody need to be reminded in every email about everything that was said in all the related emails? Probably not.