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12 Tips for Writing Effective Emails

Posted on October 17, 2018
A sticky note with the word "e-mail" written on it.

We rely heavily on email to communicate with colleagues, clients, vendors, etc. Some emails are far too long, stringing paragraph after paragraph together, while others are too brusque, while some are way too formal, or entirely too informal, and still others might even put the company in legal jeopardy.

Since we rely so heavily on email, every email we send should be well-written, and serve the intended purpose to disseminate information, while also being collegial. Effective emails, not only share information in a clear and concise manner, they save time and effort for both the reader and the recipient, which in the long run, impacts the bottom line.

Employ the following 12 tips to craft an effective email.

Subject Lines are Important

It drives me crazy when I get an email from someone and the subject line is a tease or does not relate to the content of the email. Again, this will add time to my day, when I’m trying to search through my emails for specific content, but the subject line doesn’t match that content.

Use Bullet Points and Highlight Call to Action

Bullet points make it much easier for the recipient to read the email quickly and effectively. It also helps the reader identify the main points of the email. If the recipient is expected to do something after receiving the email, highlight the call to action.

Keep it Short

No one has the time to read a 10-paragraph email, so don’t sent it. If you have 10-paragraphs, or even four-paragraphs, then you’re likely including unrelated content.

Don’t Muddle Content

Stick to one content area per email. If you are sending a follow-up email to a colleague after a meeting, then it is unnecessary to add in something about a different client or information about the company picnic, etc. When you muddle content, it makes it much harder for the recipient to find the email in a search because the content they are looking for won’t match the subject line.

Be Collegial

Always open your email with a pleasantry. I often craft my email, then go back and add in the “I hope you had a great vacation” or “Have a great weekend – enjoy the Fall weather.”

Watch Your Tone

The tone of an email is difficult to assess, but more often than not, the reader will assign a tone, even when one was not intended, so be careful not to craft the email with tone by watching the use of exclamation marks, using inflammatory words, etc.

Avoid Too Many Exclamation Marks and No Emojis

I find I use too many exclamation marks in my emails, usually to sound excited, but one could also read the exclamation marks as being angry, frustrated, etc. And NEVER use emojis in a work email, to anyone other than a close friend.

Avoid Quotes That Could be Offensive to Others

More and more you see quotes at the bottom of emails. Some are benign inspirational quotes, such as “Be the best you can be every day,” these are fine; however, avoid quotes with religious meaning, quotes that could be viewed as excluding others, etc. could offend a co-worker, a client, or a vendor, which could result in the loss of productivity and business.

Always Proofread Your Emails

Sending out an email with typos, misspelled words, etc., makes you look bad. Take the extra minute to proofread the email.

Never send an email when angry of frustrated

If you need to write the email, do so in a word document, where it is impossible to hit the send button by accident.

Email Chains

Email chains can be effective, but sometimes it is more effective to pick up the telephone and have a conversation in five minutes versus four hours of back and forth emails. Also, be careful not to change content areas without changing the subject line.

Legal Ramifications

Remember, your email, your colleague’s email, even the vendor’s email is subject to a warrant should illegal activity occur or a lawsuit be filed. Furthermore, emails sent to and from your work email address, are the property of your employer. Thus, NEVER put anything in an email that could compromise you or the company from a legal perspective (or from a professional perspective). This includes, but is not limited to, defamatory comments, harassment, admitting to wrong-doing, accusing someone of a crime or wrong-doing, promising a quid pro quo, and promising something that can’t be delivered (especially when it comes to products).

Countless articles have been written on how to craft effective emails, but I receive poorly constructed one on a daily basis. Part of the reason, the ability to write has been cast aside. We live in a world of 240 character Tweets and text messages, where everyone’s quote at the bottom on their email sent from their phone say something about excuse my typos. Even though we live in this world, writing is still important. These 12 tips offer a formula for constructing a effective email, which ultimately makes it easier.

hope you will take the time to follow these rules because your emails will be better written, more easily understood, and less likely to require follow-up. In the end, this saves time and allows you to work on other important tasks.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin CollegeDrexel University

Posted in interpersonal-communications