I spend a lot of time writing and responding to emails. According to many accounts, email is a dying medium.  For me, that jury is still out deliberating – they are probably with the paperless office jury.  So, while we await the verdict, here are my top 10 tips for email that I try hard to follow:

  1. Know who you are writing to aka know your audience. With all the privacy restrictions regarding CASL, there is a strong likelihood you will know the person.  Be attentive and respectful of their communication style i.e. if they are casual, you can be. If they are more formal, follow suit.
  2. Use the subject line to your advantage. Since people don’t always read details, the subject line can be your biggest asset. It should communicate why you are writing, whether action is required on the part of the recipient and the urgency of your message.
  3. Tell the receiver what action they are expected to take. This takes me back to my days at P&G and the one page memo (by the way, those were in hardcopy and delivered via interoffice mail!). The first line of a P&G memo states clearly what the memo is about. e.g.: this recommend; this requests your approval; this requests your attendance, etc.  When the reader read that first sentence, they know why you have written.
  4. Give your receiver a sense of urgency or a deadline for their response or action. If you need information, participation or whatever, you likely have a date in mind.  If that is the case, make sure you tell your reader.  Going back to the subject line, using the words Urgent, or Action required by (date and time) are very helpful.  It’s likely the recipient isn’t getting just one request.
  5. Explain why you sent the receiver your message. This is related to number 3. The recipient could be your boss, a client, a co-worker or a member of your team. That means you could be asking for approval or help or sharing information. 
  6. Give the receiver alternative ways to reach you – call, text message, meeting, etc. Sometimes, the receiver can’t give you what you want or to react to what you share.  Make sure you include your phone numbers or even other people to whom they can reach out to communicate with you.  For example, you might have an urgent request for information from a co-worker but you are going to be flying for several hours and out of reach. To complicate matters, the recipient is out of the office for a personal emergency.  Allow him or her to inform you of his circumstances and set up contingent arrangements using other media.
  7. Provide resources. You may have seen something on the news that sparked your note or you may have a form you want to have completed. You best bet is to include these in your message.  It gives the reader what they need to help you.
  8. Respect your reader’s time. If your message is clearly communicated in your subject line, there’s no need to go further.  But if you have a lengthy message, make sure you tell your reader what’s expected of her and what resources you are providing in your first line or two.My rule of 3: ≥3 people addressed ꞊ a meeting; addressees ≤ 3 meters away, walk to talk and ≥ 3 messages on a given topic ꞊ call a meeting. Click To Tweet
  9. Be selective. Back to point one – know your audience.  If you are writing to one person, there should not be a cc list. When I worked in corporate the email trails and the problems they caused reached ridiculous heights at times.  Here is my rule of three: if there are more than 3 people addressed, have a meeting; if the person you are writing to is less than 3 meters away, walk to see them (the exercise will do you some good.) and is there are more than 3 messages on a given topic, call a meeting.
  10. Edit before you send. This is the one I am most guilty of omitting.  Before hitting the send button, read what you have written.  Think about who it’s going to; how it will be received by that person, etc.  In my experience, a little pause before sending can save a lot of grief and regret.

While I can’t profess to applying all of these tips to every email, I honestly try.  My measure of success is simple; the people to whom I write, generally respond and I achieve my objectives.