8 Tips For Better Emails

Let’s start with some interesting statistics about email I found recently –

  • Ray Tomlinson is credited as being the first person to hit send on a network email message.
  • The term spam is widely thought to have come from a Monthy Python sketch where Vikings chanted it endlessly.
  • It is estimated more than 2.8 million emails are sent every second, 90 trillion are sent in a year.
  • An average email is about 75KB.
  • A typical person sends between 60 and 200 email messages per day.

And yet, we know most emails are poorly written, are hard to read, say little, and are a waste of time. Here are 8 tips to help you ensure that the emails you send actually provide value to the reader.

Be Prompt in Your Response. Be aware of and sensitive to the needs of the sender and respond accordingly. Respond to private messages if even to say “I’ll get back to you as soon as possible” when you are unable to respond as quickly as needed.

Limit Your Distribution. Limit the number of people on the distribution list to those who need to have the information. Don’t automatically reply to everyone on the distribution list of a message. It wastes the time of people who will not be interested in what you say to the sender. Also, check to see if you were blind copied. If you were blind copied the sender probably doesn’t want the rest of the addresses to know you were sent a copy.

Don’t Be Redundant. When forwarding or replying to a message with an attachment, don’t just automatically include the attachment. Think about the necessity of it consider that everyone has already received the attachment. Share the specific data you want to comment on in the text of your email so the reader doesn’t have to find the file.

Use simple text messages whenever possible. The simplest and most efficient means of E-Mail communication is a text message without attachments. Get to your point quickly. If you can’t say what you want to say simply, pick up the phone or set up a face-to-face meeting and talk directly with the person.

Limit the Number of Attachments. Limit the number of attachments to no more than 3. If you need to send more than 3, first get permission from the person you are sending the email to.

Avoid Large Sized Files.  Be sensitive to the amount of information being sent. To avoid sending unnecessary large files, let the recipients know that the large files will not be sent except upon request.

Avoid sarcasm and/or jokes in your messages. Without spoken and nonverbal cues, there is an increased likelihood that the message may be misinterpreted.

Avoid embarrassment. Don’t send messages that would cause embarrassment if made public. When responding to a controversial subject, compose the message, let it sit for 24 hours, then come back and read it again before hitting the send button.

How You Can Help

Leave a comment or share a funny story about your experience with email. I am sure I missed a number of tips, so any you have would be great to share so we can all benefit from a more complete list.

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87 Comments  |   Forward this to a friend Forward this to a friend   |   Number of emails sent: 545

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87 Comments so far

  1. Adrian Ashton

    July 26, 2011

    A the risk of sounding a bit bonkers – don’t email in the first place!

    See if you can speak to the intended recipient on the phone first (its a practice I started quite a few years ago, and always found it to be much more effective)

  2. Matthew Pawlowski

    July 26, 2011

    In those instances where you need to respond to one individual out of a group who receive the initial email it is sometimes better to draft a new email directed to that one individual instead of a simply hitting the reply button. This does eliminate the possibility of it being widely distributed. You never know, the other individual may accidentally hit the “reply to all” button.

  3. Marcel Van Eerd

    July 26, 2011

    I use “plain text” vs html/rtf whenever I can get away with it.

    Reasoning… few have time to appreciate images, links and signatures in colourful, fancy fonts, etc. And from a security perspective, I am lead to believe plain text is more secure and uses less bandwidth.

    Send your email, concise and to the point. Re-read it – make sure you stated clearly what you wanted to convey.

    (Besides, I like ASCI characters for emphasis. Geeky, yes, I know)

  4. Kirk Burton

    July 26, 2011

    When writing an e-mail at work always assume that it will be forwarded to the CEO without your consent (or knowledge). That will keep you professional and to the point.

  5. Dominique Touchaud

    July 26, 2011

    use the title to indicate whether the message is FYI or for action. And avoid telegraphic style or obscure acronyms as this remains written communications and has to be done right

  6. David Ellis

    July 26, 2011

    Apply the Golden Rule. Think of the recipient’s needs and not just your own. Respect their time. Copy only those who need to know. Use the “reply to all” button sparingly. Never rely on email for sensitive conversations or conflicts.

  7. Sumit Roy

    July 27, 2011

    AIM for the OIC efffect . (Oh, I See!)

    Think out your strategy, simply:

    A ction or response you want
    I nformation that will lead to that response.
    M otivation that will lead to that response

    Now that you’ve AIMed to save your reader’s time, write the way you present.

    O pening that arrests attention
    I dea that allows you to make the information interesting
    C losing that gets you your desired response

    This works for any kind of communication, not just e-mail.

    After all the purpose of any communication is to get the audience to go: “Oh, I see!”

    And then act on what they “see”.

    Let me know if this helps. Thanks.

    You can reach me at mobike@gmail.com

  8. Murtaza Ali

    July 27, 2011

    If Your question specifically about writing emails…..then I would like to FOCUS more on it’s Subject Line.

    We can Convey, Tease, Buzz, Reply Or even Ask in first line in first 10 seconds.

    Your message delivery rank will increase…for sure.

  9. Anita Treiber

    August 1, 2011

    Always pick one of the following actions: answer/or action, answer when you will complete, forward (share or delegate), delete or/and save/file. Never open and close, thinking “I will do that later. “

  10. Len Scaffidi

    August 1, 2011

    If you’re sending an email to more than a few people who know each, please use the blind cc function instead of listing everyone’s email address. Create an address that goes to you called “All Concerned” or something; then put all your addresses on the BCC line.

  11. Kameron Kitajima

    August 1, 2011

    Mine would be, never write an email when you are upset or frustrated. It’s better to step away for 30 minutes before responding to an email that could be perceived in the wrong tone.

  12. Jacqueline Latour

    August 1, 2011

    Be kind, be clear and be brief. Take those longer discussions to a call or face to face meeting

  13. Cheryl Biron

    August 2, 2011

    Never send an email in anger or participate in email “fights”. If something seems to be going wrong, call the person on the phone or don’t respond at all.

  14. Scott Nokleby

    August 2, 2011

    If it’s an important contact you do not want to offend stay away from humor particularly sarcasm. Do as I say not as I do as I burn myself on this all the time THINKING people know me and kind of read in my body language and expressions NOPE. And I hate smiley faces so hard to “mood alter” or put the sarcasm face on it. “Just the facts mam”. Of course, if you don’t care what people think and are of the opinion getting offended is the recipients problem….then volley away. I have made many GOOD friends just via first contact that way who appreciate (and “get”) the unique humor….and many more people who get offended. And for them I get to rub it in with a follow up insult like “you and your little life”. Fun.

  15. Chris Manheim

    August 2, 2011

    Be sure about whether to hit “Reply to All,” particularly when replying to a group email.

  16. Ahmed Elnawawi

    August 2, 2011

    Clearly spell-out and highlight what the expected action you have from the recipient is and by WHEN. We do better on the first and tend to miss the second assuming people will just prioritize the requested action.
    Reduce the recipients to the MINIMUM necessary and don’t copy the world.
    Sorry for sending two instead of one tip. 🙂

  17. John Williams

    August 2, 2011

    Remove the “Reply all” button.

  18. Mike Merrion

    August 3, 2011

    Here’s another idea. When you reply to an email, or an email string, DO NOT start a new email. Having the original that you are replying to helps preserve continuity of thought

    Former Pharmaceutical Consultant
    Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals

  19. Gary McNeel

    August 6, 2011

    Angry – Stay away from angry, “flame”, or satirical, sardonic or even condescending emails. Tone and the gestures (eye rolls, shrugs, smiles) are lost. When I get an email like that, I try to read it as if the person were in good humor, trying to help.

  20. Anne Brack

    August 8, 2011

    When I send an email, there are two tips I take most care with in addition to the others in the comments and article. First, I make sure that the actions I hope to follow the email are clear. Second, I am scrupulous with my distribution lists when publishing a decision or recognition email to include everyone on the team, partners, and one up managers. It’s disappointing to be left off an escalating “kudos” email from management.

  21. John Fox

    August 9, 2011

    Use spell check, and (related to this) check any smart phone that automatically fixes what it thinks are mis-spellings–it could be changing the meaning (or making it totally confusing)!.

  22. Subject line should start: “Action – “, “Info – ” or “Fun – “

  23. John Safin

    August 10, 2011

    I agree with Catherine Maloney: use good grammar. There have been a few instances when correct spelling and good grammar have gotten me “in the door.”

  24. Nohaly Perez

    August 11, 2011

    I try as much as possible to reflect the 3W1H formula: Reflect What is it for; Why Am I writing this, When do I need action from the Who I’m writing to and eventually the HOW I’m going to perform the action or from the people I’m writting to.

  25. Fiona McLaughlin

    August 12, 2011

    Don’t forget that once it’s in writing, you never know who the audience is going to end up being!

  26. Heather Buyers

    August 14, 2011

    in my humble opinion…3 emails makes a phone call!

  27. Mary Lilley

    August 16, 2011

    I make sure I use a relevant and catchy subject line, to encourage contacts to read the entire email.

  28. Maura Gast

    August 16, 2011

    Don’t waste the subject line with “Message from Fran” headings!

  29. Derek Perkins

    August 16, 2011

    Be sure you need to send it and the recipient needs to receive it. Then, and only then, send it.

  30. Alan Peralta

    August 26, 2011

    Reread. Twice.

  31. Christiane Catherine

    August 26, 2011

    Make it simple and easy for everybody to be able to read and understand you properly and clearly. But, always review what you wrote to be sure that what you said means exactly what you want it to.

  32. Mindy Vehviläinen

    September 8, 2011

    Excellent topic and close to everybody 🙂

    I suggest you put your message/desired action in the subject line with the deadline.
    Then change the subject line when replying or forwarding with your message/comment/action/decision etc. – every time.

    It makes reading emails, replying to them, organising them and searching them so much easier, thus enabling better (project) management 🙂

    Don’t know about you but I simply loathe reading 30 emails with the same title 😉 Especially when you get around 500 per day.


    September 8, 2011

    If your e-mail is in response to one that requested information from you, respond with the original message in the string or at least use the same subject line as the original message when you create a new string. This avoids confusion by the receiver as to why you are sending the information at all.

  34. Miki Ellsworth

    September 9, 2011

    Dare to be bold.
    Wear red in a sea of grey.
    Put yourself out on the (subject) line.

  35. Elaine Post

    September 9, 2011

    Email = evidence. Remember anything you write can be used in a court of law so do not write anything you’d have to explain on it’s own.

    If there is a problem between you and someone, do not email, call – email is impersonal and may create a larger problem with misunderstandings.

    Spell-check and Personally READ OVER, especially when sending something to a group of people… as a former public information officer I once sent out an email to all county staff that we were going to have a “Pubic Meeting”

    Do not keep forwarding an item without first removing everyone’s email addresses from the former string. If it is a long string, pick out the points you want to address, who sent it, then respond: I agree with Carrie when she wrote… and Dave when he suggested…

  36. Vlastimira Stankovic

    September 13, 2011

    Ask yourself: what subject would attract your attention more?

  37. fddkcuz

    March 16, 2013

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