Writing emails – a Guide

Get the reader’s attention. No one will act on your e-mail if they don’t read it first. Address just one reader, if possible. People don’t pay attention to form letters (listen up: customer service people) and they don’t pay much attention to e-mails addressed to a long list of people.  Readers tend to assume someone else on the list will take care of your request, and they will shirk responsibility.  If you can, direct the e-mail to just one person at a time and paste your message on each e-mail individually.  This is especially important when providing the agenda for a meeting.  If you need to keep everyone in the loop, you can send your e-mail to a number of people, but pay close attention to the next point.

Use a salutation. People love their names – hearing them, reading them. Most business e-mails don’t start with “Dear” anymore, but you should always use the reader’s name in a salutation at the beginning of the e-mail.  Choose a first name or a Mr., Ms., or Mrs. (yup, some people still prefer Mrs.) depending on your relationship with the reader.  Check the spelling of the name. Check it again.  This rule applies even in e-mails addressed to several people.

Fill in the subject line. Even when you know the person well, fill in the subject line. Leaving the subject line blank signals that you believe your name alone should stimulate the recipient to pore over your e-mail.  That assumption may well be incorrect.  Take the time to get the reader’s interest with a specific subject line.

NO JOKES, not even forwarded jokes, ever. Although jokes do attract attention, humour is so often misunderstood that it’s just not worth the risk. And you’ll be just as responsible as the original sender if you forward them.

Lastly, keep the actual e-mail to one screen in length. With the glut of e-mail messages, readers swiftly make decisions about what they will deal with and what they will delete.  Condense your main message to the length one screen displays, even though that will take you longer than simply running on and on. Your reward will be that people will read what you write