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Alexander Skogberg

UX, Web & Writing

Writing emails people will read, understand and reply to

Email. Love it or hate it, you probably have to use it on a daily basis anyway. Here are my best tips for writing emails people will read, understand and (most importantly) reply to.

Screen for entering a new email in Apple Mail

I’ve sure sent my amount of crappy emails over the years. Emails with vague subject titles, unnecessary CC:s and forgotten attachments. Once, I’ve even hit the Reply All button and sent an email to over 500 coworkers.

I’m always trying to write fewer and better emails and faster and more helpful replies. However, I can always get better and so can you. Now, I’m gonna teach you how!

Here are my best pieces of advice.

Write a detailed subject title

Just like a well-written link on a website, you should know what an email is about just by reading its subject title. This makes searching your inbox less time-consuming and your recipients will hopefully find and read your emails sooner.

So make your subject titles are simple, non-clickbaity and have their keywords as early as possible.

Examples of poor subject titles:

  • “Logo”
  • “Meeting notes”
  • “Send info”
  • “Slides from talk”

Examples of better subject titles:

  • “New logo in EPS format”
  • “Meeting notes for preparing usability testing”
  • “Send conference itinerary (if you have it)”
  • “Slides on talk about wireframing in Sketch”

Enter recipient only before sending

Sending someone an incomplete or not proofread email is both embarrassing and sloppy. That’s why I never enter my recipient’s email address until I’ve finished writing the email and the subject title.

This way, it’s impossible to send an email by accident!

Keep it short

I’ve been writing in various forms and worked as a freelance writer for several years and I can tell you that a great piece of text usually is short.

Write your emails like they would be published in your national newspaper. Go through the text once or twice before hitting that send button to see if you can’t trim it a bit.

Tip: When you’ve finished writing an email. Try to rewrite it and cut down the amount of used characters by 50 %. Trust me, you’ll get really close very often.

Cut the smalltalk

I can only speak for myself, but I strongly dislike reading an email that starts with generic friendly banter before an inevitable work request.

People might mean well, but I think it’s a bit two-faced. Like you want to butter someone up before hitting them with large amounts of work. Just get to the point right away.

Email is for work. Save friendly banter for a coffee break (or a suitable Slack channel).

Take advantage of formatting

Using bulleted lists, numbered lists, subheadings, bold text and line breaks will go a long way in making your emails more pleasant to read. Nobody likes to scroll through a long wall of text. I strongly recommend using different formatting options (when it fits the content).

Especially make sure to break up your text into several paragraphs. An average length paragraph might look great on a large screen, but on your smartphone’s email client it might be too long and cumbersome to read.

If formatting is not available for some reason, be creative and use capital letters for subheadings and create your own bulleted list using line breaks and dashes (-).

Name attachments well

Just like website links and subject titles, attachments should be well-named. One should be able to know what an attached PDF or image contains just by reading their file names. Make them self-explanatory.

Examples of poorly named attachments:

  • “resume.pdf”
  • “screen21.jpg”
  • “conference-info.txt”

Examples of better named attachments:

  • “resume-alexander-skogberg-inuse.pdf”
  • “checkout-03-correct-payment-information.jpg”
  • “conference-food-orders-2018-05-14.txt”

Don’t turn email into conversations

As a rule of thumb I try not to turn an email into a conversation.

If an email thread grows longer than three sent messages, I will talk to or call the other party directly to clear up what’s being discussed back and forth. Apps like Telegram or Slack are more suited for this and scrolling through old long email threads later is frustrating.

If in email thread do go on for too long, it’s vital that your signature is updated with your correct contact information and found at the bottom of every reply. Also make sure your signature doesn’t take up too much vertical space as it will make the scrolling even more tedious.

In conclusion

Email is a tool we all use on a weekly or daily basis. Sending great emails will make everyday work tasks easier for your coworkers and might elevate your status in the office. Act as a role model and send people the emails you like to receive yourself.

If you have something to add to this post, send me a (great) email or let me know in the comment section below.

/Alex

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