5 Tips to Write Better Emails

Email is next to phone calls and instant messages one of the most common ways to communicate. There are some great upcoming solutions for enterprise collaboration that might reduce or even replace the email at some point in the future, but as of now email is still master of the written word in daily business.

However communicating via email is not easy. Of course you can anyhow enter sentences and send them out to people. Fingers crossed the recipients will understand what you want from them or what you are asking. With this article I would like to share some tips with you on how to prepare better emails that people will actually like to receive.

Now I am very well aware that there must be hundreds of good ‘how to write better emails’ articles around the internet but I wanted to share my own experiences as well with you. Maybe I have an idea in here which nobody else had before? Who knows – as long this could help some people, I have already succeeded in sharing the knowledge.

Text Highlighting to Prepare a Lean Message

When you are addressing others and want to get a compact message across but also need to communicate background details on the what, why, how and when – you can possibly leverage the text marker function of your email client or rich text editor. Using this hybrid method of writing emails between compact and complex content allows people who need the quick info to know what they are asked to do and if someone needs the details they can read the full email body.

When you are done with your highlighting it should be possible for the readers to understand the email entirely whether they skim the lean highlights only or read the full copy for details. I have prepared a Lorem Ipsum style example for you in the corner. Just click the image to see the large version as pop-up.

Text Segmentation and Sub-Headers

Just how this blog article is segmented with sub-headers (the larger bold text) into readable chunks you can also do this in your emails. Whether you only build segmented paragraphs or give them a header to indicate the content of the paragraph is up to you.  The advantage of doing this is to enhance the readability of your email and therefore motivate the readers to read all of email. Nobody wants to read an epically large unformated piece of text with no paragraph breaks and no mercy.

If you want to add sub-headers on top of the paragraphs you should label the paragraph to advise the reader, about what they are to expect to know when they are done reading that part. It is possible that different people are interested in different information and don’t need to read the whole email, in case they already know parts of the communication. For instance your email could look like this: Introduction (what is happening), why, when, technical steps, business requirements. This allows different readers to skim right to the part that they need to know.

The Subject Line of Emails

Just like the title of a book, the subject line of an email needs to give an idea of its content but also should motivate the recipient to open the email. That is important because many people receive high volumes of emails every day and not only replying to emails but even the reading of emails is often prioritized based on the subject line.

If you are not certain about the subject line, skip it until you are done with the actual email content and summarize the content/message into a few significant words that form the subject of the email. You should also make sure that you not add the actual message into the subject line and skipping to write the actual email body. After all this is not instant messaging. If your communication is that simple, you might want to send an instant message instead of the email.

Just as a formality I also suggest you to manage the subject line in a living conversation. If you communicate with people with different clients or language settings you might encounter the subject-snake artefact. The subject-snake looks something like this ‘Re: Fwd: RE: FW: Fwd: Re: FW: Re: Actual Mail Subject’ and it grows with every reply. If you encounter that, try to manually remove all other tags except for one ‘Re:’ as prefix. If you don’t control the snake and it becomes too fat, soon it will be longer than the actual subject text field is and then people won’t even be able to tell anymore what this email was about. This will happen on mobile phones sooner than on desktop clients but will definitely occur. Execs hate this as they are no longer able to prioritize.

Stop the High-Frequency Chatter Emails

If you encounter the subject-snake as aforementioned, it might be because of a legit lengthy communication such as you need to coordinate activities that require days, weeks or months of communication. So unless you are writing all this down for legal, auditing and archiving reasons – you should at some point consider switching the mode of communication.

If you notice that communication frequency increases to several emails going back and forth and the recipient list grows with every new mail item, you should consider to call out for an ad hoc audio conference or even better a video conference. Get the right people in, summarize the facts, make a decision and assign the tasks. Done with email back and forth, nagging many people that don’t aid the immediate issue.

Addressing the Right People

In some organizations there is a good culture on how to use ‘to’-field, carbon copy (CC) and blind carbon copy (BCC) functions when sending emails. Others have grown a really bad culture on adding as many people as possible on every possible little bit of communication. Frankly speaking, this does not only annoy many people and is a potential information security risk, but simply put – in the worst case the email was read by 25 people, everybody took 5 minutes to understand it along with the whole mail trail and history, sums up to 125 minutes or a little more than two actual working hours. You just lost some money. Doing that the whole day across the whole international organization and involving third parties? You are about to lose major coin on bad email behaviour. Really now? Yes, really now and everybody hates it.

So make sure you send the email to as least people as required to achieve your goal. Use the ‘to’-field only for the person you want to do something. Use the carbon copy (CC) field only if it makes sense to inform someone else about the conversation. About the blind carbon copy (BCC) fields I can’t tell you much, because I don’t use it. Some leaders have even banned the BCC from email communications as it is a way of hiding, is not aiding transparency and is definitely not building a trust culture. I share that views as well.

Other Articles About Communication on TechAcute

In case you want to read more about how you can leverage lean, transparent and compact communication you should check out the first link that I wrote a little while ago. The second link is a very humorous video that makes fun of common email bad practices. The last link here is an overview of enterprise collaboration solutions on the market in case you pursue to reduce the overall volumes of emails flying around.

Thanks a lot for reading and if you have your own email improvement tips, then please share them with us below in the comments section!

Photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg / Sri HarshaDamian Entwistle

Christopher Isak

Christopher Isak

Managing Editor at TechAcute
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris. I write about tech news, management subjects. Reach out via Twitter or comments, if you like. I'd love to hear from you!
Christopher Isak

@ChristopherIsak

Journalist for Tech News + Innovation ✖ Hell-bent for truth and progress ✖ Founder of @TechAcuteCom ✖ Geek and Gamer ✖ Collaboration all the way ✖ INTJ
Pandora co-founder and CEO Tim Westergren will step down according to reports https://t.co/1ZE66u0BZa - 6 hours ago
Christopher Isak

Christopher Isak

Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris. I write about tech news, management subjects. Reach out via Twitter or comments, if you like. I'd love to hear from you!

  • KAT JAIN

    Very useful!

  • Thanks. I will rely on this. 🙂

  • Cee

    I can stand to improve in this area. I live overwhelmed because I’m in email-hell it seems like 99.9% of the time, darn it.