Top 5 Email Rules

Here’s a great list – generated by Intercambio Teacher Extraordinaire, Mary King – to use as a guide for helping students learn how to use email effectively. (It may even be useful information for you and your colleagues!)

1. Subject line — clear, short, to the point. CHANGE it if the topic changes.  (It is very frustrating to search through old email with unrelated subject lines to find a piece of information.)

  • If possible, just answer the query in the subject line. [“Yes, I will attend 8-28 mtg”]

2. Salutation and closing are optional for business email these days. (See #4) Women tend to put a closing line, but men often don’t — but don’t read into the lack of a closing from either men or women. No one is mad at you! (common misconception)  If you prefer to always use a salutation/closing, that’s fine, but keep them short.

  • If you are sending to more than one person, it is nice to put “Dear XYZ” and underneath “CC: ABC, DEF” so that XYZ knows immediately whether he/she needs to forward it to ABC and DEF.

3. Many people are now reading email on a small phone screen or tablet, not a big computer screen. Keep messages short.

  • Think “1 computer screen” AT MOST – because that is probably a few or several phone screens! Shorter = more likely to be read and understood completely. If multiple topics, ask whether you should be sending multiple emails – or, perhaps, picking up the phone or scheduling an in-person meeting.

4. People are inundated with email and scan them quickly, often missing details. Make it easy for them to find your key points or questions.

  • If you will have more than one question that needs answering in an email, for example, put “2 Qs about xyz .Need reply by Friday” in subject line. In email, label Q1 and put q. Insert blank line. Label Q2 and write second q. Put date needed again, set off, or at top, or in bold.
  • Lead with your answer or conclusion if you are providing information in response to an email. Space (line return), then put short explanation if needed. If you think more info than that  might be needed, consider using an attachment or a query – “Do you want more details?” – or “I would be happy to phone you with more info. What is a good time to do that?”
  • Use spacing, bullets, numbering, bold, etc., to set off key points, but don’t overdo it.

5. Before sending, ask

  1. Do I need to attach a file? (I often forgot until my email program got smart enough to ask me every time it sees the word “attach” in any form.)
  2. Do I need to send this at all? Be kind to inboxes — ask, “Does this need an email reply or an reply at all? Should I pick up the phone instead?”
  3. Who needs to be copied? (not necessarily the entire list who received the first message!) Again, be kind to inboxes.