How to write an effective email - Digital Tool Factory blog How to write an effective email - Digital Tool Factory blog

How to write an effective email

envelopeAfter listening to Jeff Atwood rant about email on the most recent Stack Overflow Podcast I thought I would write a quick guide to creating an effective business email.  I am defining “business email” as email designed to garner information needed to perform some larger, work related task.  Business emails tend to be a constant stream of communication between two parties over an extended period of time.  This quick guide should eliminate 90% of problems related to those emails.  We now resume our regular “How To Fix” formatting:

The Problem: People send email  to occupy time and simulate forward motion, and in some cases convey information, but they seldom use email to elicit information from co-workers.  Attempts to elicit information are likely to transmit anxiety from sender to receiver rather than triggering a useful response from receiver back to sender.

The Cause: The American educational system minimizes essay writing and maximizes multiple choice questions, which makes free form text vauge and problematic.

The Solution: Use these tips

  • Start every email off with a definite, but minimum greeting.   “Hey Steve” reads better than “Hey Steve, how was the weekend?  That weather we’ve been having….”.  You have no need to personalize the email beyond the bare minimum.  You want to convince the recipient you intended to send the email to them.
  • Have only one question per email
  • Sometimes questions will need context – give it the context, but do not convey any opinion about the topic at hand.    It irrelevant opinions confuse the recipient of the nature of the task and get in the way of a meaningful response.
  • Use the subject line to summarize the email in some form.  “A question about our HSA policy”, or “Where are the health insurance forms?” summarizes the email better than a subject line of “Health Insurance” or “Form Locations”.
  • Per Leo Babauta – keep all emails to 5 sentences or less.
  • If the subject has definite options, for instance, “Option A” or “Not Option A”, make sure to list those options in the email.  Also,  make it easy for the recipient to cut and paste the email.
  • Remember that that the recipient does not care about the email as much as you do, so be specific
  • Eliminate as many pronouns as possible, better too few than too many
  • Never use the words “very” or “really”.  In fact, avoid adverbs as much as possible
  • Never forward on a message that was sent to you and expect the other person to have any idea what it means.  Appending “Does this make sense to you” does not count as not forwarding on an email.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Tim Morgan


This post originally appeared on the Stronico blog – with the absorption of Stronico into Digital Tool Factory this post has been moved to the Digital Tool Factory blog

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Written By Steve French


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