Email is arguably the biggest success story of the Internet, and it’s no wonder! Consider its many benefits: email is fast, easy to use, convenient and inexpensive. However, all this convenience can backfire on us if we end up spending too much time writing, reading and managing emails.
Here are some writing tips that will save time for both you and your readers:
Know your purpose and state it clearly: Before you begin writing, identify who you’re writing to, and why you’re writing. State your purpose up front, so the reader understands what they need to do and reads the entire message in context. Don’t leave the reader to figure it out!
Write a clear subject line: Use subject lines that are information rich so the receiver can prioritize your message before they even open it. Put key words first, or use a familiar preface such as FYI or URG to tell your reader what kind of message you’re sending. If your email requires a response from the reader, try asking for the response right in the subject line. Here are some examples of clear subject lines:
- New procedure for directing customers to Case 24 Support
- Contract for your signature due May 31
- Please select your conference sessions by June 12
- FYI: Common Systems Project Update
Anticipate your reader’s questions: Always craft your message from the reader’s perspective. What questions does your reader need or want you to answer? Brainstorm your reader’s questions and organize them into the order that your reader would want them answered. Then flesh out the message by answering the questions. This technique ensures your message is complete and avoids time-consuming back-and-forth emails and phone calls.
Keep the message focused: Email messages need to be short and to the point. Only include content that is pertinent to your purpose-no more, no less. In fact, you can help your reader by sending a separate email for each topic. This makes it easier for them to respond, file and retrieve your message.
Select a sans serif font: Some fonts, or typefaces, have small lines extending from the top and bottom of the letters, called serifs-for example, Times New Roman, Century and Garamond. Sans serif fonts (fonts without serifs) such as Arial, Calibri and Tahoma, are crisper on the screen and easier to read-particularly for readers who have a visual impairment.
Lay out your message to improve readability: Use techniques that help your reader to skim and locate key information. Organize the content of your longer emails using active, descriptive headings, which help guide the reader through your message. Paragraphs should be short, with white space between them. Use lists to break up larger blocks of text. For example:
I’ve attached the training agreement for you to review and sign, the pre-course survey, which you can distribute electronically to participants, and the invoice for the deposit. To secure your dates, please sign the agreement and return it along with your deposit.
Use a list
- The training agreement for you to review and sign
- The pre-course survey, which you can distribute electronically to participants
- The invoice for the deposit
To secure your dates, please sign the agreement and return it along with your deposit.
Minimize email chains: Avoid long email chains as much as possible. They are time-consuming for the reader to navigate, and lengthy email conversations can easily veer off course. When the chain is necessary, summarize the issues so your reader doesn’t have to search for the information buried in the chain. Make sure you update the subject line to reflect changes in the discussion.
By following these tips, everybody wins. You’ll spend less time writing, and your readers will read and respond to your messages more quickly. The result-less time wasted and more work done!