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Writing Effective Email: Top 10 Email Tips Jerz's Literacy Weblog



Writing Effective Email: Top 10 Email Tips

Posted by Dennis G. Jerz and Jessica Bauer, on March 8th, 2011 Jerz > Writing > E-text Some professionals get scores of emails a day. Follow these email etiquette tips in order to give your recipients the information they need, so theyll act on your message. 12 Dec 2000 original version submitted by Jessica Bauer (UWEC student) 20 Dec 2012 last modified by Dennis G. Jerz 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Write a meaningful subject line. Keep the message focused. Avoid attachments. Identify yourself clearly. Be kind dont flame. Proofread. Dont assume privacy. Distinguish between formal and informal situations. Respond Promptly. Show Respect and Restraint.

1. Write a meaningful subject line.

People who get a lot of email scan the subject line in order to decide whether to open, forward, file, or trash a message. If your subject line is vague or even worse, if its blank you have missed your first opportunity to inform or persuade your reader. Remember your message is not the only one in your recipients mailbox. Before you hit send, take a moment to write a subject line that accurately describes the content.

See Also

Subject: [Blank] If you dont put a subject line on your email, you are sending the message that your name in the From line is all your recipient should need in order to make it a top priority. That could come across as arrogant, or at the very least, thoughtless. Take advantage of the opportunity to get your recipient thinking about your message even before opening it. Subject: Important! Read Immediately!! What is important to you may not be important to your reader. Rather than brashly announcing that the secret contents of your message are important, write an informative headline that actually communicates at least the core of what you feel is so important: Emergency: All Cars in the Lower Lot Will Be Towed in 1 Hour. Subject: Quick question. If the question is quick, why not just ask it in the subject line? This subject line is hardly useful. Subject: Follow-up about Friday Fractionally better provided that the recipient remembers why a follow-up was necessary. Subject: That file you requested. If youre confident your recipient will recognize your email address, and really is expecting a file from you, then this would be fine. But keep in mind that many email providers get scads of virus-laden spam with vague titles like this. The

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more specific you are, the more likely your recipients spam-blocker will let your message through. Subject: 10 confirmed for Friday will we need a larger room? Upon reading this revised, informative subject line, the recipient immediately starts thinking about the size of the room, not about whether it will be worth it to open the email.

2. Keep the message focused.

Often recipients only read partway through a long message, hit reply as soon as they have something to contribute, and forget to keep reading. This is part of human nature. If your email contains multiple messages that are only loosely related, in order to avoid the risk that your reader will reply only to the first item that grabs his or her fancy, you could number your points to ensure they are all read (adding an introductory line that states how many parts there are to the message). If the points are substantial enough, split them up into separate messages so your recipient can delete, respond, file, or forward each item individually. Keep your message readable. Use standard capitalization and spelling, especiallywhen your message asks your recipient to do work for you. If you are a teenager, writing a quick gushing thx 4 ur help 2day ur gr8 may make a busy professional smile at your gratitude. But there comes a time when the sweetness of the gesture isnt enough. u want ur prof r ur boss 2 think u cant spl? LOL ;-) Skip lines between paragraphs. Avoid fancy typefaces. Dont depend upon bold font or large size to add nuances. Your recipients email reader may not have all the features that yours does. In a pinch, use asterisks to show *emphasis*. Use standard capitalization. All-caps comes across as shouting, and no caps invokes the image of a lazy teenager. Regardless of your intention, people will respond accordingly.

3. Avoid attachments.
Rather than attaching a file that your reader will have to download and open in a separate program, you will probably get faster results if you just copy-paste the most important part of the document into the body of your message. To: All 1000 EmployeesFrom: Eager EdgarSubject: A helpful book everyone should read Hello, everyone. Ive attached a PDF that I think youll all find very useful. This is the third time I sent it the file the version I sent yesterday had a typo on page 207, so Ive sent the whole thing again. Since some of you noted that the large file size makes it a bit awkward, Ive also attached each chapter as a separate document. Let me know what you think!Attachments: Big Honking File.pdf (356MB) BHF Cover.pdf (25MB) BHF Chapter 1.pdf (35MB) BHF Chapter 2.pdf (27MB) [... ] Okay, raise your hands how many of us would delete the above message immediately, without looking at *any* of those attachments? To: Bessie ProfessionalFrom: Morris PonsybilSubject: Email tips a subject for an office workshop? Bessie, I came across a book that has lots of tips on streamlining professional communications. Has anyone volunteered to present at the office workshop next month? Let me know if youd like me to run a little seminar (2o minutes?) on using email effectively.Below, Ill paste the table of contents from the book. Let me know if you want me send you the whole thing as a PDF. Table of Contents

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1. 2. 3. 4.

Write a meaningful subject line. Keep the message focused and readable. Avoid attachments. [...]

Email works best when you just copy and paste the most relevant text into the body of the email. Try to reduce the number of steps your recipient will need to take in order to act on your message. If your recipient actually needs to view the full file in order to edit or archive it, then of course sending an attachment is appropriate. If its the message that matters, recognize that attachments consume bandwidth (do you want your recipient to ignore your request so as to avoid paying for a mobile download?) can carry viruses dont always translate correctly for people who read their email on portable devices.

4. Identify yourself clearly.

To: Professor Blinderson From: FuZzYkItTy2000@hotmail.com Subject: [Blank] Yo goin 2 miss class whats the homework

Professor Blinderson will probably reply, Please let me know your name and which class youre in, so that I can respond meaningfully. I dont recognize the address FuZzYkItTy2000@hotmail.com.

To: Professor Blinderson From: m.ponsybil@gmail.com Subject: EL227 Absence, Oct 10 This is Morris Ponsybil, from EL227 section 2. This morning, I just found out that the curling team has advanced to the playoffs, so Im going to be out of town on the 10th. According to the syllabus, it looks like I will miss a paper workshop and the discussion of Chapter 10. May I email you my Chapter 10 discussion questions before I leave town? And could I come to your office hour at 2pm on the 12th, in order to catch up on anything I missed? Ive asked Cheryl Jones to take notes for me. Thank you very much. Ill see you in class tomorrow. (If you are asking the other person to do you a favor, providing the right information will give him or her a good reason to decide in your favor. In this case, Morris Ponsybil shows his professor he cares enough about the class to propose a solution to the problem his absence will cause.) When contacting someone cold, always include your name, occupation, and any other important identification information in the first few sentences. If you are following up on a face-to-face contact, you might appear too timid if you assume your recipient doesnt remember you; but you can drop casual hints to jog their memory: I enjoyed talking with you about PDAs in the elevator the other day. Every fall, I get emails from bad_boy2315@yahoo.com or FuZzYkItTy2000@hotmail.com who ask a question about class and dont sign their real names. While formal phrases such as Dear Professor Sneedlewood and Sincerely Yours, are unnecessary in email, when contacting someone outside your own organization, you should write a signature line that includes your full name and at least a link to a blog or online profile page (something that does not require your recipient to log in first).

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5. Be kind. Dont flame.

Think before you click Send. If you find yourself writing in anger, save a draft, go get a cup of coffee, and imagine that tomorrow morning someone has taped your email outside your door. Would your associates and friends be shocked by your language or attitude? Or would they be impressed by how you kept your cool, how you ignored the bait when your correspondent stooped to personal attacks, and how you carefully explained your position (or admitted your error, or asked for a reconsideration, etc.). Dont pour gasoline on a fire without carefully weighing the consequences. Will you have to work with this person for the rest of the semester? Do you want a copy of your bitter screed to surface years from now, when you want a letter of recommendation or youre up for promotion?

@!$% &*@!! &(*! Go ahead write it, revise it, liven it up with traditional Lebanese curses, print it out, throw darts on it, and scribble on it with crayon. Do whatever you need in order to get it out of your system. Just dont hit Send while youre still angry. From: Clair Haddad To: Ann O. Ying Subject: Re: Ongoing Problems with ProjectIm not sure how to respond, since last week you told Sue that you didnt need any extra training, so I cancelled Wednesdays workshop. I can CC Sue in on this thread if you like, since shes the one who will have to approve the budget if we reschedule it. Meanwhile, I can loan you my copies of the manual, or we can look into shifting the work to someone else. Let me know what youd like me to do next. Original Message From: Ann O. Ying I tried all morning to get in touch with you. Couldnt you find a few minutes in between meetings to check your messages? Im having a rough time on this project, and Im sorry if this is last-minute, but Ive never done this before and I think the least you could do is take some time to explain it again.

If your recipient has just lambasted you with an angry message, rather than reply with a point-by-point rebuttal, you can always respond with a brief note like this, which 1. casually invokes the name of someone the angry correspondent is likely to respect (in order to diffuse any personal antagonism that may otherwise have developed) and 2. refocuses the conversation on solutions (in this conversation, Ann has already dug herself into a hole, and Clair has nothing to gain by joining her there)

6. Proofread.
If you are asking someone else to do work for you, take the time to make your message look professional. While your spell checker wont catch every mistake, at the very least it will catch a few typos. If you are sending a message that will be read by someone higher up on the chain of command (a superior or professor, for instance), or if youre about to mass-mail dozens or thousands of people, take an extra minute or two before you hit send. Show a draft to a close associate, in order to see whether it actually makes sense.

7. Dont assume privacy.

Unless you are Donald Trump, praise in public, and criticize in private. Dont send anything over email that you wouldnt want posted with your name attached in the break room. Email is not secure. Just as random pedestrians could easily reach into your mailbox and intercept the envelopes that you send and receive through the post office, a curious hacker, a malicious criminal, or the FBI can easily intercept your email. Your IT department has the ability to read any and all email messages in your work account (and your company can legally may fire you if you write anything inappropriate).

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8. Distinguish between formal and informal situations.

When you are writing to a friend or a close colleague, it is OK to use smilies :-) , abbreviations (IIRC for if I recall correctly, LOL for laughing out loud, etc.) and nonstandard punctuation and spelling (like that found in instant messaging or chat rooms). These linguistic shortcuts are generally signs of friendly intimacy, like sharing cold pizza with a family friend. If you tried to share that same cold pizza with a first date, or a visiting dignitary, you would give off the impression that you did not really care about the meeting. By the same token, dont use informal language when your reader expects a more formal approach. Always know the situation, and write accordingly.

9. Respond Promptly.
If you want to appear professional and courteous, make yourself available to your online correspondents. Even if your reply is, Sorry, Im too busy to help you now, at least your correspondent wont be waiting in vain for your reply.

10. Show Respect and Restraint

Many a flame war has been started by someone who hit reply all instead of reply. While most people know that email is not private, it is good form to ask the sender before forwarding a personal message. If someone emails you a request, it is perfectly acceptable to forward the request to a person who can help but forwarding a message in order to ridicule the sender is tacky. Use BCC instead of CC when sending sensitive information to large groups. (For example, a professor sending a bulk message to students who are in danger of failing, or an employer telling unsuccessful applicants that a position is no longer open.) The name of everyone in the CC list goes out with the message, but the names of people on the BCC list (blind carbon copy) are hidden. Put your own name in the To box if your mail editor doesnt like the blank space. Be tolerant of other peoples etiquette blunders. If you think youve been insulted, quote the line back to your sender and add a neutral comment such as, Im not sure how to interpret this could you elaborate? Sometimes Email is Too Fast! A colleague once asked me for help, and then almost immediately sent a follow-up informing me she had solved the problem on her own. But before reading her second message, I replied at length to the first. Once I learned that there was no need for any reply, I worried that my response would seem pompous, so I followed up with a quick apology:

Should have paid closer attention to my email.

What I meant to say was [I] should have looked more carefully at my [list of incoming] email [before replying], but I could tell from my colleagues terse reply that she had interpreted it as if I was criticizing her. If I hadnt responded so quickly to the first message, I would have saved myself the time I spent writing a long answer to an obsolete question. If I hadnt responded so quickly to the second message, I might not have alienated the person I had been so eager to help. DGJ

References & Further Reading

Alsop, Stewart. My Rules of Polite Digital Communication. Fortune. 142.2 (10 July 2000): p 76. Online. Academic Search Elite. 9 October 2000. Cronin, Jennifer. Netiquette, schmetiquette. Des Moines Business Record 16.24 (12 June 2000): p 11. Online. MasterFILE Premier. 9 October 2000. Email Etiquette. I Will Follow Services. 1997. <http://www.iwillfollow.com/emailetiquette.html>. 9 October 2000. Nucifora, Alf. Use etiquette when messaging via email. Memphis Business Journal 21.51 (14 April 2000): p23. Online. MasterFILE Premier. 9 October 2000. Thorton, Sam. Rules and Regulations: Email Etiquette. 29 April 1998. <http://www.lse.ac.uk/Depts/ITS/rules/email.htm>. 9 October 2000.

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Jessica Bauer and Dennis G. Jerz 12 Dec 2000 first submitted by Bauer 23 Jan 2001 posted by Jerz 16 Feb 2001 updated by Jerz 25 Oct 2001 minor updates by Jerz 16 Apr 2003 further updates & changes by Jerz 10 Jun 2004 strengthened advice against attachments 28 Aug 2004 trimmed a few minor redundancies 19 May 2008 updated items 1-3 20 May 2008 updated items 2-4 23 Jun 2008 corrected typos identified by Bob Folline 04 Mar 2010 adding considerations for mobile email users 08 Mar 2011 formatting changes 20 Dec 2011 changed e-mail to email throughout


113 comments to Writing Effective Email: Top 10 Email Tips

Older Comments 1 2 3

Geek Revealed
16 Oct 2011 at 1:34 pm Reply Very Very Good tips! But I would like to add one more point, that many times people use Reply to all option while replying to emails. But replying to all creates a headache for the other people who were in the senders distribution List. So, I would like to say that first people should know the difference between Reply and Reply to all and then think if the reply is important for all or not. If the reply is only meaningful for the sender then there is no point in disturbing others in the senders list. Well that was a very nice and informative article. I have bookmarked it for the future reference. Thanks for sharing!

jibby jacob
17 Oct 2011 at 8:57 pm Reply Good work

Mohammad Gul
19 Oct 2011 at 1:53 am Reply Thanks alot for sharing these kind of tip which is so useful and benfit for all email writers.

24 Oct 2011 at 1:17 am Reply Hi, My Boss has sent mail , like this First of all, start improving your communication skills especially during speaking/writing mails to higher ups/colleagues . Please do pick up a book in Communicative English or Business Correspondence and get started. Please feel free to check with Vinoth/me for assistance as well. Please help me How to improve my communication skill?

Dennis G. Jerz
24 Oct 2011 at 1:49 am Reply

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Id suggest that you do just what your boss suggested pick up a book, and get started. You can go to your local library, or spend a few bucks in a bookstore. Study the examples and do the exercises. Join a forum or email discussion list in your field, or in a hobby area where you already have special knowledge. Rather than writing in and saying Hi, Im new here, everyone please help me with my business correspondence homework so I can keep my job, just start offering advice and answering questions. Edit a Wikipedia page, and follow along with the Discussion page, and help resolve disputes. Start a blog about something you care about, and practice writing every day. Go to your companys technical writing department, make friends with the writers, ask them whether theres some favor you can do for them, in return for their honest opinion. Is it your grammar? Are you too informal, talking to higher-ups like they are your buddies? Are you too blunt, talking to colleagues as if they are your underlings? Is your email address sparkleprincess1990@hotmail.com? I dont know the culture of your work environment; you will need to educate yourself on proper business writing etiquette, and decide how you can change your communication style.

Laila Meadus
28 Oct 2011 at 8:50 pm Reply Hello, Thank you for your information. I cannot underemphasize the importance of your etiqette, especially the comment about walking away from an angry reply, get a coffee and dont send it. Not only employers, but any recipient, can and will misconstrue or misuse information like this that can permanently and horrendously damage not only a career, but defame a character. Be very careful about email, as this has become a method of unforseen pitfalls

29 Oct 2011 at 9:22 am Reply Hi.thank U.very helpful. is it nessessery to have a signeture in our emails ? my master ask us to write an e_mail for him, the e_mail etiqette is important for him. if you think that signture is important and have effect in my mark please tell me, where I have to place my signture. and if it possible for you tell me some signture. my majore is IT. Thanks a lot.

Dennis G. Jerz
29 Oct 2011 at 10:25 am Reply I dont mean to sound harsh, but Id be willing to bet that putting in serious time and effort improving your English would please your master more than a quick fix like adding a signature line. Calling your instructor master suggests that you are his slave, which is demeaning to you and insulting to him. How does your instructor sign his his emails? If you are especially interested in pleasing him, then use his emails as a model. If your instructor is going to evaluate your email, ask for models of acceptable and unacceptable emails. But first, look in the syllabus or textbooks to see whether that information is already part of the assigned readings.

31 Oct 2011 at 4:15 pm Reply A great article, additional formats/example could help us a lot

Yogesh v
4 Nov 2011 at 5:52 am Reply Its really helping.. Thanks a lot

7 Nov 2011 at 2:16 pm Reply Hello, do you happen to have this in a printable or emailable format?

Dennis G. Jerz
7 Nov 2011 at 4:47 pm Reply

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If you just print the page, the sidebars and navigation will disappear the layout is quite readable, I think.

14 Nov 2011 at 3:39 am Reply very helpfull yes.

15 Nov 2011 at 2:17 am Reply It helps a lot Thanks for the tips

15 Nov 2011 at 11:12 am Reply it was helpful, thanks a lot.

17 Nov 2011 at 7:42 am Reply Im curious about this scenerio: a person starts mildly flirting with a co-worker through IM. The flirt-ee always responds in caps. Is that a subtle sign that they are not interested in being flirted with by the flirt-er? All caps emails and messages are very unattractive so could all caps be a way for someone to discourage unsolicited flirting?

17 Nov 2011 at 6:01 pm Reply Great Article, thanks! Another great tip I found: When youre not sure whether to write it down or not, DONT!

24 Nov 2011 at 1:05 am Reply It is interesting and got clarified with your suggestion. It was at the right time i say your page thanks Sivakumar.M ( India,Chennai)

Geoff Smith
30 Nov 2011 at 1:45 pm Reply Thanks for addressing a very needed topic! Its encouraging to know that others are equally frustrated by missing or otherwise useless email subject lines. However, I am somewhat leery of using the subject line to summarize the content of the email message. Yes, the practice has its place, but I have received too many email messages with no message content at all, only a subject line that does an inadequate job of providing the information I need for an appropriate response. Instead of freeing up my time with this summarized message, my workload has actually increased because now I must follow up with the sender in order to learn all the details I need. And when I dont even know the person sending the email or I am only slightly acquainted with that individual, and I am greeted by a message consisting of a few terse words in the subject line, I find the practice rude and inconsiderate as well as unhelpful. Summarize the emails message? Absolutely. But in the process, please dont eliminate essential content from the body of the message.

1 Dec 2011 at 4:45 am Reply this page is abso-bloody-lutely useless and pathetic

Saeed Akhter Khan

5 Dec 2011 at 1:46 am Reply

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i want to know more about official mail. I am new in mail writing . please help to improve my mail language, thanks n best regard,

8 Dec 2011 at 3:49 am Reply Thanks. This article helps a lot.

Zabihullah safi
22 Dec 2011 at 1:29 am Reply Very help full article, Thanks a lot looking for more good articles.

22 Dec 2011 at 7:36 am Reply Very nice learning, may i please know any dedicated site(free) for writing good emails, I always find myself at loss of right words instead of having good vocabulary. Regards, Sumit

Dharm Pal
24 Dec 2011 at 3:11 am Reply Thanks you very much sir for very needed topic. I am a student of MBA(RM) from Central University Lucknow, UP, India. Please suggest me how can i improve my communication and writing skill.

Dennis G. Jerz
24 Dec 2011 at 4:50 am Reply Thanks for your comment Im glad you found the page useful. I hope my answer doesnt come off as sounding flippant, but what if I asked you, Please suggest how I can improve my business knowledge? Where would you even start? Your university may offer technical writing courses. Meanwhile, I can suggest that you browse my other technical writing handouts: http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/technical-writing/ http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/technical-writing/what-is-it/ You can also see the tips I left for Sugna, above: http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/e-text/email/comment-page-3 /#comment-58519

Muhammad Haider
27 Dec 2011 at 1:51 am Reply ThankYou so much Jerz. It definitely helped alot.

31 Dec 2011 at 12:10 am Reply My boss should seriously read this. She never gets it right. HAHAHAHA!

3 Jan 2012 at 12:10 pm Reply i love you very very very very much

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16 Jan 2012 at 6:23 pm Reply Thanks a mIllion times for the tips

20 Jan 2012 at 6:32 am Reply hi sir/ madam, It is very usefull to us, I am working as a marketing executive, how can i improve my skills, please tell me.

24 Jan 2012 at 2:32 am Reply you got to the point man. well done.

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