The average person receives 100 to 150 emails a day. You can imagine that this means many emails are deleted before they are even opened and most emails get little attention.
I previously wrote 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 attract attention (you only have five seconds to do so) and actually be read. And, of course, you want the email to effectively relay your message.
An effective email should follow this format:
- Greeting and introduction. The introduction is necessary only if the person doesn’t know you and readily recognize your name. 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.
- 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? Be sure to state these action items clearly.
- 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 just 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 and/or social media accounts
Beyond that, here are some tips for how to write effective emails that people actually read.
1. Use a professional account
Make sure the name on the account you use is professional and easily identified. Sending an email from “pimpdaddy69” is probably not your best choice.
2. Use an engaging subject line
Your subject line must stand out or your recipient will miss your email while wading through all of the others. he/she will miss it. Include your main topic or point and a call to action in your subject line. Never send an email without a subject line. This is a wasted opportunity to communicate, it looks unprofessional and it may result in your email going directly to the recipient’s junk folder.
3. Focus your content
What exactly do you want to address in the email? Keep emails to a single 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 personable
Write in a friendly, personable and professional tone, keeping in mind that there’s a human at the other end of the computer.
6. Write short
Be concise with your writing. If an email is more than five sentences long, the subject probably should 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.
Read 11 Tips to Tighten Your Writing for help on writing more concisely.
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 content. 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.
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 necessary)
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.”
Read 11 Tips for Editing Your Own Writing for help with this difficult task.
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. Instead, write an email as described above, referencing the “forwarded message below.” Be sure to change the subject line so it reflects your purpose.
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 “urgent” function
Those little red exclamation points really irk 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.
Read Recognizing the Power of the Pause to better understand the importance of taking time to think before you respond.
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.