12 Tips for Writing a Better Email

how to write better email

Manager’s Guide to Better Email Writing

Even in the age of Facebook, Twitter and text messaging, email is still at the core of modern business communication.  We use email to communicate to our customers, our suppliers, our employees and our superiors.  We use it to send mass-communication to our entire organization, and we use email to contact a single recipient.  Moreover, according to our research, nearly 50% of people say that communication skills are the most important aspect of being a good manager.  So, while it’s easy to click the ‘COMPOSE’ button and crank out our thoughts, it’s important we craft email messages that efficiently drive action.  For these reasons, we wanted to create a manager’s guide to writing an email, as well as to share some management tips on getting information across as best as possible.

One Basic Rule: Email Has It’s Place…

Recognize that email is a delayed form of communication.  What does this mean?  It means that unlike text messages, instant messenger, or a good old-fashioned phone call, email is a form of communication that recipients will get to when they can.  Need proof?  One of the most common productivity tips offered by experts is to actually ‘shut down email’ so people can concentrate on their work, and only to check email a few times a day.  If you need something immediately, don’t email.  Resort to a different form of communication.

“The goal of an email is to get a clear message across in a few words as possible.”

And now, our manager’s guide to writing an email…

Tip 1. To Whom It May Concern

How many times do you receive an email from someone in your organization and the sender didn’t even take the time to address you or the group?  Spend an extra 2.3 seconds on your email message and address it to ‘Mary’ or ‘Steve’ or ‘Team.’  In our era of information overload, a little personal touch makes a big difference.

Tip 2. Use Basic Email Etiquette

In most cases, following some very basic elements of email etiquette gives your message a professional touch, as well as makes it easier for recipients to take action.

7 Points on Email Etiquette:

  1. Use a Clear Subject Line to Quickly Describe the Message Intent
  2. Use Simple Language That People Will Understand
  3. Minimize the Use of Acronyms as a Courtesy to Your Reader
  4. Proofread to Make Sure The Message is Clear
  5. Keep It Focused and Professional in Nature
  6. Use Spellcheck If It’s Not A Default Setting
  7. Include a Detailed Signature If the Reader Does Not Know You:
    • Your Title
    • Your Organization
    • Your Contact Information
    • Your Website

Tip 3: Minimize the Nuisance

These days, most people complain they’re overwhelmed by the amount of emails they receive.  You’d be hard pressed to find someone who wants more email.  Thus, copying 80 people on your email does nothing but distract the 75 who are not critical to the communication.  Direct your message to your audience.  The names you place on the “To” line are those who are to take action or respond.  Include names on the ‘CC’ line only for awareness, but do not expect them to respond or even read the message.

Tip 4.  Align Your Message to the Recipients

Before launching your thoughts into cyberspace, consider the audience.  When emailing someone who is typically very busy, get your point across quickly and make it easy for them to get back you just as efficiently.  When writing to someone above you in the organization, keep your tone professional.  When emailing someone with less experience, be sure to explain the purpose and the goal so they are clear on your request.

Tip 5.  For Important Messages, Start with A Key Point

When sending an important message, start with the main point up front.  Don’t make the reader work.  For example, “Hi Bob, FYI, the Contract is now Signed….”  Or “Shelly, Our sales are down by 2%.  Here are the reasons why…”  Put the bottom line up front, and follow-up with details.  If the reader just sees this one line, they will know the message you are sending.  They can choose to read the details if they have time.

RELATED: Bottom Line Up Front Technique

Tip 6.  Remember That Tone is Lost…

Emotion and tone are lost when in written form.  And for this reason, your reader may easily misinterpret the intent of your email.  Use language that transmits the tone of your message so it is clear to the recipient.  In other words, spell it out.  For instance “Mike, I am concerned about the status of your project… ”

Tip 7. Once It’s Out There…

Once your message is sent, it’s out there.  You cannot control what happens to the message after you click ‘SEND.’  For this reason, the importance of keeping your email professional cannot be overstated.  Your best bet is to assume your email will be forwarded to someone, and others will eventually get ahold of it.  Bonus: If you’re angry, wait before you click ‘SEND’ in order to proofread your message after you’ve cooled off.  Avoid saying something overly harsh or something you’ll regret.

Tip 8.  Prune Back Lengthy Emails

The goal of an email is to get a clear message across in as few words as possible.  Even when you’re the boss, if the recipient has only a 15 minute window to go through several emails, they’re typically going to tackle as many as they can.  So, when they see something that goes for 8 paragraphs, they’ll likely say to themselves ‘I’ll come back to that’ and return to it at a later time.  Unless the email is something like a weekly report, or providing detailed instructions to someone 12 time zones away, nothing will get less of a response than a lengthy, long-winded email.  Be specific, but not excessive.  An extra few minutes spent trimming your message back is time well spent.

RELATED: How Strong is Your Message?

Tip 9.  And If It Needs to Be Long… Make Your Email Easy to Read

Make the job of the reader easy.  Break up the message visually into short 2-3 sentence paragraphs so it’s easy to understand.  Use bulleted lists as much as you can and write in short sentences so the message doesn’t get lost.  Actions and questions for the reader are easily lost when you send them a wall of text.

Tip 10.  The Call to Action Should Be Clear

When a recipient gets to the end of your message, they should understand what to do as a result.  Set expectations in the email for what you’re looking for – level of details needed, timeframes of interest, action owners, etc.  Sending a lot of information across the wire is usually unproductive and will simply confuse the recipient at the other end.  If they’re left asking themselves ‘What am I to do with this?’ you have missed the mark.

Tip 11.  Be Responsive.  Make Contact With Employees

As a busy manager, your time is precious and it’s hard to ‘make the rounds’ with our staff everyday.  Email offers you a chance to have simple coaching moments and offer praise to your employees on busy days.  Further, a quick “Thanks, Jessica” in response to her  project update let’s her know you got her message and appreciate her work.

RELATED: Time Management Tips for the Busy Boss

Tip 12.  If It Goes Back and Forth 3 Times…

If emotions enter the conversation, or your email chain blasts back and forth more than 3 times in the span of a few minutes, take it “offline.”  Pick up the phone, setup a video chat, or just walk down the hall.  A single 5 minute conversation often gets through details, diffuses emotion, and delivers results faster than you can respond with the same amount of information.

Closing Thoughts

Effective communication is essential to being a good manager in today’s business world.  Even though we all complain we receive too much of it, email is still an essential communication format for businesses and organizations around the globe.  By following the above tips you can easily improve your ability to drive action, as well as exchange information with your customers, your suppliers, your boss and your staff.


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