Email is a huge part of modern life.
I’ve had my personal email account since 2004, and out of curiosity, I just checked the number of emails in the Sent folder: nearly 6,000. I haven’t totaled up how many work emails I’ve sent—some things are better left unknown—but it’s far more.
Despite the rise of texting, social media, and instant messaging services like Slack, email is still the de facto standard for electronic communication. Yet, many of us haven’t given much thought to how to write an effective email (and those of us who have can probably use a refresher).
Below are three principles to keep in mind that will improve the quality of every email we send, saving both us and our email recipients time and energy.
When reading an incoming email, we’re usually trying to discern an answer to the following question: “What’s being asked of me here?”
A well-written email answers this question for the reader. The subject line can help (try starting off with “Reply needed:” or “Urgent:”), and formatting is our friend as well (putting requests in bold or italics helps the reader find them).
However you do it, make your “ask” explicit. It may seem too forward, but it’s really a favor to the reader.
Long emails don’t get read.
Not very well, anyway. We’re all busy, and we all get too much email. There’s an inverse relationship between email length and reader comprehension, so write the shortest email that serves your purpose. You can get pretty extreme about this if you wish.
Emails that read like a legal brief leave the reader cold. Use enough formality to be appropriate, but no more. It’s difficult to convey emotion or nuance through email, so don’t be afraid to include the occasional exclamation point or, yes, emoji in your emails.
Email is not a perfect tool, but it’s one we all use. We might as well use it well!