Tag Archives: mail

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Do You Break These Email Rules?

I Must Have Written Millions of Emails

Over the years, I’ve seen, and made, all sorts of mistakes with emails. To fix them I’ve adopted nine rules. They’re so obvious it’s a pity I (and maybe you?) don’t always follow them :o(

I often break rule 6 trying to be friendly, especially in these COVID-ridden times.

If you want to read the explanations below, please go ahead. If you don’t have time, here’s the list. Click a rule to see a brief explanation.

Rules for Writing Effective Emails

Rule 1. One topic, one email
Rule 2. Main point up front
Rule 3. Don’t change the subject
Rule 4. Email when you’re fresh
Rule 5. Use complete dates
Rule 6. Keep it brief
Rule 7. Take care with Reply All
Rule 8. Check your spam folder
Rule 9. Subject rule for meetings

Simple, innit? Do you always follow these rules? I try.

Rule 1: One topic, one email

The most effective emails contain just one question or message. Busy people receive 100s of them. They scan emails, so second and subsequent messages are often missed, rarely acted upon.
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Rule 2: Main point up front

For busy email scanners, if you want something to happen, ask in the first sentence. Leave white space afterwards for emphasis.

Add all the reasons you want below. Some may read them. Your main actor will probably be too busy. However, s/he will see you have loads of justification and might actually act. If there’s no justification s/he may notice that, too.
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Rule 3: Don’t change the subject

How often have you said to yourself, “I said that in my email yesterday”?

Did you change the subject? Did you start a new conversation in reply to something else? And did you Reply All? It’s convenient if you’re talking to the same group of people. Many people, seeing “RE:” on the same subject line once too often, won’t bother to read it.

If you want to talk about something else, start a new conversation. One with suitable words in the “Subject” field. See rule 7, too.
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Rule 4: Email when you’re fresh

Don’t email late at night, when you’re tired, or after booze/chocolate/whatever turns you on. I’m not going to explain this rule further. If you really feel the need, wait until tomorrow to press “Send”.
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Rule 5: Use complete dates

It happened again. I arranged a meeting for a day next month, 21 July. One colleague read it as June. If I’d said Wednesday 21 July he’d have found out very soon and wouldn’t need to be told.

Saves everyone a lot of time sorting it out, and some people find public mistakes like this embarrassing. It’s good to be kind.
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Rule 6: Keep it brief

After you’ve finished writing that important email, read it again and see how many words you can remove without affecting the meaning. If it’s a really important mail, get someone else to do it too.

If it’s very short, will your entire message into the Subject field?

Nobody likes spending time on unnecessary waffle. People will appreciate your brevity.
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Rule 7: Take care with Reply All

For two reasons, do think about “Reply All”.

  • save people time by not sending them irrelevant copies to open
  • don’t copy people into conversations that don’t concern them – it can be embarrassing

If the original sender copied in other people, they intended them to be aware of the conversation, maybe join in. Reply All can, inadvertently, share information you regret, especially if you change the subject (rule 3).

Avoid wasting people’s time unnecessarily: “Reply All” only if you think the sender was correct. Back to list.

Rule 8: Check your spam folder

Email systems continually update their spam filters. This is great, but they sometimes think emails you really want are spam.

Before you switch off for the night, look through your spam folder. Move non-spam to your inbox, otherwise, links may not work. Then delete the rest to keep it tidy.
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Rule 9: Subject rule for meetings

Put the date and time of the next meeting in your email subject.

Recipients may consider your mail non-urgent and then lose it in overfull inboxes. Making it obvious reduces the risk of being ignored when they miss the meeting; makes excuses sound lame.

[Added November 2021 after a couple of embarrassing failures.]
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