Email continues to be the communication channel of choice in business, and while social media might be muscling in on our personal lives, it hasn’t killed email just yet. Unfortunately, despite the practice we get by sending 144.8 billion emails a day, most of us are still really bad at it. And it’s driving everyone mad.
So, here are my 25 tips to help you get to the point, get read, and get a response:
1. Make sure your full name appears in the sender details. Do you answer the phone from a withheld number? Then who is going to open an anonymous email?
2. Choose your recipients judiciously. Don’t bother those who don’t need to know.
3. Prevent premature delivery by leaving the ‘To’ field blank until your email is ready to send.
4. The subject line is there for you to summarise clearly and concisely the point of your email. If you want it opened, don’t call it ‘Hey’ or ‘Meeting’. Be specific, tell them what the email needs them to do.
5. When you’re in a long thread, and the topic of conversation changes, change the subject line. Keep it relevant (with the original in brackets so everyone remembers how it all began).
6. Respect your reader’s time. Keep everything short, sweet and to the point.
7. An email should only ever cover one topic. Don’t muddy the message and make the reader have to think about what you want from them. If you have lots to cover, call the person or have a meeting.
8. If you’re sharing documents and data consider whether collaboration tools, like Basecamp, would be better than email.
9. Email is simply not suitable for some things: don’t fire people, argue or cover personal and sensitive topics with a medium that is notoriously open to misinterpretation.
10. If there is no objective to your email, why are you sending it? Don’t fill your recipient’s inbox with white noise.
11. Use plain text. “All those pretty colours and fancy type faces and styles make me want to puke,” says Guy Kawasaki, “If you can’t say it in plain text, you don’t have anything worth saying.”
12. Don’t faff about. Get to heart of the matter in the first line. Tell them what you want them to do, or what you want them to know. Chris Brogan blogged about one of the greatest emails he’s ever received. Look at why.
13. Write plainly. As with all writing, avoid jargon and meaningless words that will make your reader zone out.
14. Check your spelling and grammar. Yes, it does matter, it affects how people hear your tone and if you don’t think enough of your recipient to take the time to get it right, why should they take the time to reply?
15. Don’t be afraid of emotion. Use emoticons, or extra punctuation to clarify your tone and keep things friendly!!!
16. Having said that, don’t email when you’re emotional. If you are angry or drunk, then step away from the keyboard.
17. Be conversational. Keep it human in order to keep it engaging. Email is electronic, your reader is not.
18. For marketing emails, be sure to focus on helping the reader, rather than boasting about yourself. The results speak for themselves.
19. Speak to specific audiences. Marketing emails need to be just as relevant and informative as any other email, so target your emails.
20. When using email for sales, always make sure you answer ‘What’s in it for me?’ early on in the message.
21. Reiterate your main point and spell out what you want your reader to do before you sign off. ‘Reply and let me know if you are free at 2pm on Wednesday.’
22. Include links to social media or websites with your signature, but don’t go mad. People want to know how to get in touch, not your life story.
23. Stop. Breath. Think. Re-read. Send.
24. Reply. Set a good example. If you want people to respond promptly, and pay attention to your emails, then return the favour and practice what you preach.
25. And finally, never forward an email that contains the words, ‘LOL’, ‘FAIL’ or ‘CAT’.