RHX Logo and slogan: Achieving meaningful change for people and organisations

 


Resource: Writing better emails

Prepared by Helen Palmer (May 2011)


Writing better emails can improve the chances of an email message being read, understood and actioned.  This resource describes tips I use to write more effective email messages.

A. Reasons to change how you write emails

B. Tips for writing better emails

C. Comparing examples of emails


A. Reasons to change how you write emails

You want your message:
- noticed in a timely manner even if there are many messages in your recipient's Inbox

- read and understood when the reader has competing priorities and distractions

- actioned despite your reader's limited time or attention to make decisions and act productively


Help the reader of your email to help you!
Imagine your reader has 10 minutes to look at the 30 new emails in their inbox. This means they have about 20 seconds to look at your email. The first look is the most important look - will they act, mark it for action, and leave it alone with the risk that they won't look at it again because in the future they will be looking at new emails?


B. Tips for writing better emails

No. 1 consideration - is email the best method to convey your message or request?  It might be easier for all involved, for you to pick up the phone and have a conversation.

General

Subject Line

Here are examples of some 'Before' and 'After' subject line treatments:

Before

After

Business Documents

For action: Comment on business documents by Fri 6 May

Stuff

For info/action: Details requested at last week's team meeting

Catching up

For action: Propose time/place for next catchup

Next Wednesday

For info: Confirming our meeting for next Wed (11 May)

Tax Invoice

For action: Process tax invoice (pymt due by Fri 13 May)

Presentation invitation

For action: Consider invite to present at ACE team meeting in June

Interview

For info: Details for PA recruitment interview


Message

See next section for examples of good and bad email messages.


C. Comparing examples of emails

Imagine you got the following 4 emails in your inbox. With only a quick glance, which email appeals to you most? Which email is the easiest to 'process' (i.e. decide 'what it is' and 'what to do about it')?

NB: The majority of the text in the email is incomprehensible on purpose, to illustrate the effect form alone can have on the readability of a message.


Read below each email to learn what is different about each email: Good (+) and Bad (-) features

Email Sample 1

Assessment

  • Subject line doesn't signal action (-)
  • Large volume of text (-)
  • No introductory sentences to explain the email contents (-)
  • No Headings or Numbers to breakdown content into chunks (-)
  • Uses paragraph break/white space between chunks of content (+)
  • No explicit statement about action and deliverable in the message (-)
  • States relative deadline not absolute deadline (-)

RATING = Not easy to read


Email Sample 2


Assessment

  • Subject line doesn't signal action (-)
  • Small volume of text (compared to Sample 1) (+)
  • No introductory sentences to explain the email contents (-)
  • Uses Numbers to distinguish between different chunks of content (+)
  • Uses paragraph break/white space between chunks of content (+)
  • No explicit statement about action and deliverable in the message (-)
  • States relative deadline not absolute deadline (-)

RATING = Somewhat easy to read


Email Sample 3


Assessment

  • Subject line doesn't signal action (-)
  • Large volume of text (-)
  • No introductory sentences to explain the email contents (-)
  • Uses Headings to distinguish between different chunks of content (+)
  • Uses paragraph break/white space between chunks of content (+)
  • No explicit statement about action and deliverable in the message (-)
  • States relative deadline not absolute deadline (-)

RATING = Somewhat easy to read


Email Sample 4


Assessment

  • Subject line signals action and deadline (+)
  • Small volume of text (compared to Email 1) (+)
  • First 2 introductory sentences explain the email contents (+)
  • Uses Headings to distinguish between different chunks of content (+)
  • Uses paragraph break/white space between chunks of content (+)
  • Explicity states action and deliverable in the message (+)
  • States absolute deadline not relative deadline (+)
  • Can be easily scanned for quick comprehension of content and desired response (+)

RATING = Easier to read


Return to the top of page