Email is a powerful tool for communication in business. When used correctly, it can help you move projects forward, gather valuable information, and delegate actions. When used poorly, however, it can become a source of frustration and inefficiency. Here are some proven guidelines for improving the effectiveness of your email communication.
Use a descriptive subject line. I see subject lines all the time that consist of “Hi” or “Question”. This is absolutely useless and makes it impossible to glean information about the message while scanning or searching subject lines. Instead, use a descriptive subject line that gives a very short summary or label related to the actual topic of the message. This will make your recipient more likely to read and act on your message and makes it easier to scan in a long list of other messages.
Keep it short. Most people today are very busy and will have very little patience for an email that rambles and requires extreme effort to digest. Talk in clear, concise points and keep it as short as possible. In general, the longer the email, the slower your recipient will reply - if he or she replies at all.
Separate topics by paragraph. No one wants to squint through a long email that has no visual separation between topics. Keep your topics short and concise and separate them by a double-space. Paragraphs in email should not be indented, either.
Keep it actionable. This is an often-ignored guideline. Your recipient is probably very busy and has many other emails fighting for attention. The easier you make it for your recipient to act, the more likely it is that you will get results. People naturally want to process the things that are easiest and so by keeping your message clear and actionable, you increase the chances of a response. If you need something, say so succinctly. If you have a question, ask it clearly. Whatever action you need, get to the point and make it easy for your recipient to help you.
Include a signature. This courtesy is also commonly ignored. Every business email should have a signature. This is a small block of text that appears at the bottom of your message that includes your phone number and other contact information (company name, title, web site, etc.). This makes it easy for your recipient to call you if necessary, or find information on your company web site. Any email system will allow you to set up a default signature that is included automatically in every message. Don’t make your recipient go on a scavenger hunt for your contact information - include it in every email.
Remember to use proper email etiquette when communicating with your business contacts and you will be noticed as a great communicator and someone who is easy to do business with.