Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Five Commandments - Effective Email

Five rules to follow if you want to communicate effectively using email and get the response you need.

1. Fill in the subject line of your email suitably.

a) If you cannot title the email properly, then it is probably better not to write it! Talking to the addressee(s) over the phone or, if possible, face-to-face about the things you want to discuss will be more effective.

b) It is very confusing to see important, unrelated things discussed in a mail innoccuously titled "Hi" or "Re: my vacation". Subject lines like "Re:Re:Fw:Re: " are, at best, irritating .

2. Do not discuss more than one important point in an email.

Put in more points and it is guaranteed that many of your "important" points will be ignored. If it is really necessary to do so, then make sure that all of them fit the email's subject line, assuming that you have obeyed the First Law.

a) As far as possible, ask only one question in an email...
b) Put your question at the end of the email for maximum impact.
c) Ask the questions in a questionnaire-like form with numbering or bulleting, if you absolutely must ask many questions in your email. When more than one question is asked in an email people get confused as to which of the questions are more important and how to answer and so on.
d) Do not forget the question mark!?

3. Time for response/action is inversely proportional to the number of people on the CC list.

If you want immediate action on your email, put lots of people in the CC list. The more important the people in your CC list are than your main recipient, the faster the response will be.

4. Keep your email as short as possible.

(Explanation intentionally short)
The attention-spans of most people are goldfish-like, so make your emails concise and precise.

a) As short as possible...but no shorter!
Cryptic emails are the worst! Make it concise, but not too concise. (Point proven!) :-)

5. Read before you send!

As the adage goes, look before you leap. Typos and grammatical errors are major put-offs for recipients. Use the grammar-check or spell-check tool, if needed; but remember, you are your best checker if you read what you have written impartially. Make sure that you have said only what you mean. Use emoticons if appropriate, otherwise reword. Leave no scope for ambiguity.

- Thomas Jay Cubb


  1. Chaitanya Dev6/30/06, 4:04 PM

    Hi Thomas,

    Writing emails is no different from writing other business correspondence. It must be clear, concise and inoffensive to the reader. Following may be added to the list of etiquette.

    Provide a context
    Say it with an emotion
    Minimize abbreviations
    Respect the reader's time
    Start and finish on the right foot
    Apply the rules of spelling and grammar
    Layout the pages
    Using these as guideline will assist you in negotiating the difficult waters.

    G.R.E.A.T e-mails - This acronym is a handy way of remembering the most important aspects of customer friendly emails.

    Goal - What is the purpose of the email

    Relevant facts - Have you provided enough upfront information for the reader to respond appropriately?

    Emotional Tone - What mood have you set for this email?

    Action - Have you made a specific request for what actions you would like the receiver to take?

    Timeframe - Have you told the reader by when you need a response or action taken?

    Also one must eliminate sexist language. With increasing number of women in the workforce; it is important for email writers to avoid sexiest language that could offend clients, rankle colleagues or irritate hidden readers.

    May be not so important context will be if your are writing an email to an American audience or an English audience. American and English spellings of certain words are different (if not the meanings)


  2. kollam.. when r u comin to tvm???

  3. May not serve as additional "commandments" (those come later). Nevertheless these tips may be worth heeding to!

    *Do NOT use "Desi" usages like
    -to go out of station-
    et al in mailers to non-desi recipients, albeit the first one being coined so intelligently :-)

    *Contadicting your point no 4, some cultures prefer seeing the email content bit broad, as they reckon that broader content calls for attention:-) Hence it is culture-dependant.

    * In business mailers, add a few statistics, which the CxO's radar would pick right away:-)

    * You could bolden or colour sections of the text appropriately to get the bee on to the flower

    * The structure of the present day global mailer could be sandwiched in nature, meaning, include a pleasantry or a personal stuff at the beginning followed by the message-in short and again something personal at the base, if it is not your first email communication with the prospective recipient. Better to avoid political comments in the personal top ups:-)

    Now for the "commandments" part, if I were supposed to stretch it:-)

    C6-Quick replies!
    If tied up, you may even restrict yourself to acknowledging the mail if not providing a detailed reply. One could use an auto-mailer if out of office. Again, one could introduce a colleague (prompt) in the CC-list should you "plan" to be bed-ridden at a casino! :-)
    Be wary of the time-zone differences (PST, JST, GMT and so forth) especially if the info to be provided is really important or giving a critical commitment-time or a deadline!

    C-7 Load lightly!
    Avoid attachments, especially those in "embees", and "geebees" are out of question unless requested. If avoiding seems tougher, minimize the size at least, but that too after politely obtaining a consent from the sendee. Alternatively you could direct/invite the reader to a URL where the stuff can be viewed upon downloading.

    C-8 No pretentious display!
    Avoid using jargons/abbreviations to first-timers. You could very well flaunt those if the recipient flaunts first:-) or should you both are on the same page.

    C-9 Convey delays if any, in advance!
    Quite vital in delivery models. If you foresee a delay against your commited time-frame, convey that in advance lest things get out of control if informed in the last minute. The recipient would even appreciate your far-sightedness or being upright, who knows!

    C-10 Closing the loop!
    In a mail series, one has to formally end it somewhere. For instance, you may send a simple "thanks" to close the mail to appreciate the other party for a certain information sought. Seemingly unimportant, but I'd rate this rather high to keep the relationship going.

  4. Hi,

    Please see whether the following is useful:

    1) Send the e-mail as plain text (if possible)
    The recepients' e-mail client may not be configured to display html or rich text format

    2) Request delivery report
    If your e-mail client supports such an option, turn it on before sending the mail. You will be notified when the e-mail has been relayed to the recipient's mail

    3) Keep a copy of the sent mail
    Turn your sent item on or put your mail-id in CC/BCC list, it may come handy in certain situations.

    4) Recipients can be placed in three different fields
    Certain people do care these sort of things; if you are sending a mail to your project team, don't put your project manager and a junior team member in the
    same field.

    5) Configure your display name
    Don't leave the display name field in your mail client blank

    6) List the attachments
    Specify the attachment name, size, and the contents.

    7) Add a signature
    It's better to add a signature containing your address, phone number, extension number etc.

    8) Sending webpage URLs
    If you are sending some webpage URL, include the corresponding text in your mail, since the recipient's company policy may not allow him to visit all