Writing a perfect (or nearly so) email

Like a good memo or haiku, internal and external emails should have a specific style and rhythm.

First, start with a meaningful subject. If you want the recipient to open the email and take action on it, make it clear from the subject line what the email is about and what needs to be done. A meaningful subject also makes it easier for the recipient to find the message by a quick search or scan of their messages. 

Recycling is good for things like paper and cans, not emails. Don’t keep recycling an old thread by clicking reply or reply all. When you have a new topic, create a new email with a new subject line. This ensures that there is no unrelated information in the email, which can confuse recipients and waste their time (“better read this, must be something important in here…why else would I get it”).

Make your request or call to action clear within the body of the email. What do you want the recipient to do and how should they do it? If there is more than one point (or request), start out with introductory sentence that explains this in email, something like “The four items below need to be completed by Wednesday on the Fenton project:”.

If you send an email with a request to six people, be sure to make it clear who should do what. This avoids the “oh, I thought someone else was supposed to be doing it” excuse or duplicated efforts. It also helps to use the cc: section for people you want to keep up to date, but who aren’t directly responsible for any action needed in the email.

And finally, look before responding to all. Does your response really need to go to everyone?