Having read and written business emails for more than 15 years now, I’ve listed my tips below. Note: these are not for blast emails sent to prospective customers soliciting business. These are for the “everyday” emails you write to co-workers and contacts that contain either information or a request for a response.
- Before you email ask yourself if it is the best way to communicate your message. Sometimes a phone call, IM, or even an item in your organization’s newsletter is better. And don’t forget the power of a business letter or a handwritten thank you note. (Managers, don’t hide behind your emails. Pick up the phone and talk to your direct reports.)
- Use a relevant subject line. Keep it short, but relevant. If you want a reply, include “<<Response Requested>>. If it’s time sensitive, say so. Never leave the subject line blank. People often search for an email by the subject line.
- Bottom line up front. The military calls it “BLUF.” The purpose of the email should be stated in the first or second sentence. I love the book, “Made To Stick,” and others that advocate telling a story to market your message. But that’s not the purpose of most emails sent among co-workers. If you want people to read to the bottom of your email, get to the point. Don’t use a narrative.
- Avoid the vertical scroll bar. Most of the emails I write are short enough not to have a vertical scroll bar. I believe that people are less likely to read the entire email if they notice that it continues beyond the bottom of the screen. As novelist Stephen King said, “Avoid useless words.”
- Bold key points and calls to action. If you need a reply by a deadline, put that sentence saying so in bold. Many busy people speed read emails.
- Use correct grammar. There are plenty of people, including me, who lose respect for those who don’t take time to use correct grammar. We are less likely to finish your emails. No, they’re not text messages or tweets.
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