Get Productive: Writing effective emails

Writing Tools 3

Email is intended as a quick and efficient way of communicating – consider the following email etiquette guidelines when writing your emails to make them more effective.
  • Be concise and to the point, don't waffle on for pages and pages.  Keep it to 2-3 screens of information - or put the information in an attachment.
  • Use proper structure and layout - it makes it easier and quicker to read - lists, bullets, headings.
  • Avoid overly long sentences – keep them to 15-20 words each.
  • Keep paragraphs short - just 3-4 sentences each.
  • Be careful with formatting - rich text and HTML messages aren't always readable - create text only versions too - especially for mobile users.
  • Use a meaningful subject or change it if the discussion has moved on after a series of replies.  Makes it much easier to find a relevant email later.
  • Use Subject Labels – ACTION REQUIRED, Information Only, Please Respond ... gives your reader an indication of the purpose of the email.
  • Avoid excessive use of abbreviations and jargon - not everyone will understand what you're talking about.  If you need to use TLAs - explain what a Three Letter Acronym (TLA) is when you first use it then it's easier to recognise next time.
  • Be clear and specific if something needs to be done and say when you want it done by.
  • Use addressee fields appropriately:
    • To: = addressee needs to action, respond
    • Cc = for information only – no action/response required
    • Bcc = avoid using unless for mass mailings or multiple addressees
  • Include signatures on all external emails –this may be a standard part of your company's policy.
  • Use the cc: field sparingly - only include people who really need to receive the information.
  • Use templates for frequently used responses - saves time and effort and avoids having to retype the same information over and over.
Re-read your email before you hit send.  It can be easy to miss things if you just type and send.  Also if the topic is reactive, emotional or contentional it can be good to put it aside and come back to it.

Read it as the person who'll receive it - rather than the person who wrote it.  What's going on in your head may not have come out as you think.
 (Photo credit: avianto)
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