Write Emails That Work

We all use email in our daily lives to do business but are you making the most of it?

Get to the point

Most professionals are busy and receive many emails a day. The reader needs to know the action requested of them right away. Be clear with the purpose of your email. Remember these questions when composing your email:

  • Why are you emailing this person?
  • What do you want them to do next?
  • Why should they care?
  • What’s in it for them?

Put the “call to action” near the top and don’t bury it below a paragraph or two of introduction. (e.g. “This project needs approval from you by Thursday” or “Can you call Joe and handle the details of this project?”) Don’t let the reader skim and lose the important purpose of the email.

Don’t neglect the subject line

Write concise descriptive subjects. Make it easy on the reader to gather a good idea of the content before even opening the email. Include a point of action if you can. (e.g. “Decision needed on proposal by Monday.”)
If you change topics in a reply, change the header subject. Reading an email with the subject “Re: Re: D.C. Trip” a month later on something completely unrelated because the sender replied to an old email is not productive and may get lost.

Keep your subject lines short but not too short. Most email clients cut off the subject line after 40-50 characters anyway. Be concise but not vague. Good subject: “Your October Website Stats”; Bad subject: “Here you go.”

Be concise

Have a clear goal for the email. Don’t ask too many questions at once. The responder won’t know where to start and what is most important for them to decide on now.

When forwarding an email state why you forwarded it instead of leaving it blank or saying, “See below”. E.g. “I thought you might be interested in what Mary has to say about the purchase.”

When adding a link or URL for someone to go to be descriptive on what it is. If the link is really long then use the hyperlink button that is built into most email clients to add a descriptive sentence instead.

Name your file attachments. Just because you like to name your file “JIMMY’S NoTeS (1) (2) ver3-2 edited by Mike and then Carol on tuesday.docx” doesn’t mean your recipient needs that. Attachments will download as they were named. Try instead to rename your files to something more useful for the recipient that will be saved on their computer.


Take twenty seconds to read your email aloud in your head. I know that’s contradictory but even mouthing it to your self will catch something poorly written.

Shorter is better

After writing your email look over it and see if you can cut down the length. Just include important points and cut out unnecessary wording. Simplify sentences and don’t run on too long. Try using bullet points but don’t go overboard. Bold important words or phrases but not too much. People skim online, they don’t read. Make it easy for them.

Shrink your signature

Your signature doesn’t need to be ten times longer than your message. Don’t clutter the bottom of every email message. Don’t double-space every line. Be careful with using an image in your signature. Keep it as small as possible and link it via HTML. Sometimes copy and pasting it in will send an attachment of your logo jpeg to everyone you email.  Remember, people are going to have to scroll by your mammoth signature in a long thread of email replies so make it easier on everyone.

Be wary of tone

If your email may be misinterpreted or construed as negative, it will. Emails almost always come across with a bit of an attitude since you don’t have tone of voice. Jokes barely work either. Keep that in mind.

Pick up the phone

More amicable business gets done over the phone anyway.

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