When it comes to establishing standards and best practices for business communications, email is still the wild frontier. This has to change, because so much communication takes place via email. Every day I receive more emails than I can easily deal with. It takes way too much time to figure out what’s important and what’s not. I’m not alone—we’re all suffering from email overload. We could all benefit from some email best practices.
Problems with email
The problems with email begin at the top, with poorly written subject lines that don’t describe the actual contents or purpose of the message. Wouldn’t it be great if you could rely on the subject line to tell you what’s in the email and whether you need to read it? We all receive emails that turn out to be completely irrelevant to us.
Speaking of irrelevance, once you’ve opened a message you shouldn’t have to read through a lot of irrelevant content to find out what the writer really wants to tell you, and what response they expect. I appreciate emails that get to the point right away, with the important information in the opening sentences. This is very helpful—especially if your mailbox is set up in preview mode.
Missing key information is a common problem, too. For example, I recently received an invitation to a meeting, with the date and time specified and the agenda described in detail—but not a word about where we’re supposed to meet.
Some email best practices
Here are some best practices that can help you make your organization’s use of email more efficient.
- Send emails only to those who need to receive them
- Write brief, concise subject lines that reflect the main idea of the message
- Use opening sentences that clearly state the purpose of the email, as well as the expected response
- Clearly label the different parts of the email
- Use bulleted lists to make clear succinct points
- Group relevant information together
- Make sure to include all dates, times or other particulars that your readers need to know.
- Review what you’ve written for accuracy, clarity and completeness.
- Verify who you’re sending it to, before you click “Send”
These suggestions are just a beginning. You'll find more ideas for email best practices in our white paper, Ten Tips for Making Email Work. We also offer an eLearning course that can help you write better emails, Making Email Work™. Has your organization implemented email best practices? Are they making a difference?