The average person receives 100 to 150 emails a day. You can imagine that this makes it difficult for any one message to get much attention.
I wrote yesterday about determining whether an email is the best tool for delivering your message. Once you determine that email is the communication method of choice, it’s important for you to write an email that will most effectively relay your message.
An effective email should follow this format:
- Greeting and introduction. The introduction is necessary only if the person doesn’t readily know you. A professional greeting is required.
- Email purpose statement. This should be written from the recipient’s perspective, addressing the What’s In It for Me. I wrote more about WIIFM here.
- Supporting information. Include a sentence, bullet points or a numbered list supporting your cause. Be careful that your email doesn’t get too long here. If it starts getting lengthy, consider including an attachment or calling instead.
- Action items and/or deadlines. Who would you like to do what as a result of reading this email?
- A closing statement. Emails should begin with a courteous greeting and end with an appropriate closing. This makes them more personal and less like demands or another item on the person’s to do list. Be sure you address the correct person and spell his/her name correctly, otherwise your message is likely to be deleted.
- Your Signature. All emails should include a helpful signature at the bottom. You want your signature to include important information, but not read like a full bio. Include:
- your name
- your title
- work address
- work telephone number
- a link to your website
- social media accounts
Beyond that, here are some tips for effective email format:
1. Use a professional account
Pay attention to the name of the account you use for email. You want it to be professional and easily identified. Sending an email from “pimpdaddy69” is probably not your best choice.
2. Use an engaging subject line
The recipient wades through at least 100 emails a day. Your subject line must stand out, or he/she will miss it. Include your main topic or point and a call to action in your subject line.
3. Focus your content
What exactly do you want to address in the email? Keep emails to a single, simple subject, remembering that emails aren’t for conversations, they’re for communicating short, direct information.
4. Address the most important information first
Be direct about why you’re emailing. The most important information should go in the first sentence.
5. Be personal
Keep in mind that there’s a human at the other end of the message. Write in a friendly, personal and professional tone.
6. Write short
If an email is more than five sentences long, the subject probably could be addressed in another manner. Shorter emails get quicker responses because they’re easy to read and process. Longer emails tend to result in the recipient opening them, noticing the length, then closing them to read when they “have time.” Unfortunately, while this is well meaning, it tends to result in your email sitting in their inbox, sometimes until you follow up.
7. Bold important content
It’s possible that every word of your email won’t be read. Bold the important words, allowing your email to be scannable, even when read via mobile.
8. Break your text into paragraphs
Long blocks of text are difficult to read. Hit two paragraph returns every few sentences so the copy breaks into blocks with an empty line between.
9. Consider lists
Use a numbered or bulleted list to help the recipient process your email more quickly.
10. Avoid typing in all caps
I can’t believe we still have to address this issue, but some people still think it’s fun to WRITE EMAILS IN ALL CAPS. This just makes the recipient wonder why you’re yelling at them. While we’re on the subject of overzealous email practices, it’s also important to avoid exclamation points. We know you’re excited about the email’s contents. Let’s leave it at that.
11. Limit abbreviations
Use of abbreviations depends greatly on the context of the email and the person you’re communicating with, but it’s generally a good idea to use them sparingly. Don’t assume the other person can decode your message. You don’t want your email to read like alphabet soup.
12. Avoid emoticons
Emoticons have no place in professional communication. I wrote more about that here.
13. Use a simple font and layout
Your message is your email’s key function. People just want to read what you have to say. They aren’t interested in email bling.
14. Include supplemental information
If the email recipient needs additional information to make a decision or fully understand your email’s subject, include that information as an attachment or link.
15. Ask a question
It’s acceptable to ask a question in an email. In fact, the need for information probably is the reason you’re sending it. Be sure to ask just one or two questions, directly connected to the subject.
16. Edit carefully
Reread, spell check and proofread your email before you send it. Don’t rely only on your spell checker. There is a difference between “pubic relations” and “public relations.”
17. Send to the correct person
This is about not only knowing who you’re directing your message to, but also making certain the correct email address is the one listed.
18. Send only to necessary parties
More work is generated when many people receive an email. You run the risk of everyone who receives the message responding, creating more email for everyone. The other common occurrence is that everyone assumes that someone else on the list is responding or doing the work, so no one does it. Send email only to the specific person who you want to respond. Ask your questions directly to that person.
19. Never just forward
Simply forwarding an email suggests that the information was important enough to share, but it doesn’t help the recipient know why you’re sharing it with him/her. Instead, write a email as described above, referencing the “forwarded message below.” Be sure to change the subject line so it reflects your needs.
20. Follow up if necessary
Don’t assume that someone is blowing you off just because he/she doesn’t answer your email as promptly as you would like. People are busy. Wait a few days (if you can), then follow up. If you are on a tight deadline, email probably isn’t your best method of communication. You should at least give the recipient 24 hours to respond.
21. Don’t misuse the red exclamation point
This one really irks me. Your email is no more important than anyone else’s. If the topic is urgent, email is the wrong form of communication. Handle it via phone or face-to-face.
22. Avoid mood mail
Never send an email when you’re angry. Take time to cool down and reread the email before you send it.
Email is an important form of communication in today’s workplace, but the amount of email we receive makes it difficult to give every message our full attention. The tips above will help you write professional emails that are easily consumed and processed, making your email communication more effective.
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
What tips do you have for more effective email writing? Is there something people write in emails that you think others should avoid?