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Writing Effective Email

May 14, 2010
by Scott Levitt ·  

Four Tips for Effective Email Messages
Receive faster, more accurate responses guaranteed.

If you’ve had trouble getting responses from clients, colleagues, and friends, the problem might not be on their end, necessarily. It’s possible that the way you’re writing email is causing them to postpone reading your messages or miss crucial information.

By practicing these four tips, you can save time, improve the flow of information, and spare your recipients frustration.

1. Write specific subject lines

Blank or vague subject lines fail to catch attention and often discourage people from opening your message promptly.

For example, if you have a meeting with a prospective client next Tuesday and you’d like to clarify where you will meet, a subject line that reads “Where to meet next Tuesday?” is infinitely better than “Tuesday…” or “Our meeting.”

Remember, a subject line should cover the true subject of the message. A concise subject line also helps recipients decide if they can quickly respond, or if they’re going to have to put off the email until later in the evening,

2. Get your “Point Up Top” (P.U.T. it first!)

Lead with the purpose of your message. Email isn’t a cocktail party where small talk helps warm people to the conversation… it’s business! If you have personal questions or less relevant subjects, push them further down message, or better yet, save them for a casual message on the weekend. If you bury your point, you might not get the information you need at all. Your goal is to clearly explain in the first sentence why you’re writing.

3. In bulk email, boldface names to get attention

When someone sees that a message is sent to multiple recipients, they’re likely to think (or hope) that they’re not the focus of the message, and will therefore treat it with less attention. If you want specific information or behaviors from different individuals copied on a single message, try using bold face on their name. Avoid using ALL CAPS (it looks like shouting), but simply highlight and bold the name on its first usage to get attention. If possible, constrain your paragraphs to one person per paragraph.

4. Break up long paragraphs into shorter sections

When people open email, they instantly scan the message to see if they have time to digest the message quickly, or if it’s something they’re going to have to put off for a more thorough reading. If you’re in the habit of writing email with one enormous paragraph, you could be encouraging your readers to file the message away for later. If you DO have a long message you need to write, you might warn the reader in the subject line– for example:

Subject: Tuesday’s open house plan (warning: long)

Finally, recognize when email may not be the best means of communicating. This is especially true if you want to bring up a sensitive situation, or feel that your tone might be misinterpreted in email. The phone or a twenty minute meeting over coffee might save you days of back and forth!

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One Response to “Writing Effective Email”
  1. Eric Raymond says:

    For even more tips, definitely check out the “Writing that Gets Results” ebook, too.

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