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December 16, 2013

5 tips for writing effective emails

By shutterstock_127009502_feat

Do you start your day by checking your email? Even though time management gurus caution us to only check email once or twice a day, for many of us regular email checking is so addicting (and we’re so afraid to miss something important) that we check for email every few minutes. Many of us can’t even imagine turning off the email notifier — that would be crazy!

This is how I check my email each morning: I look for stuff to delete, purge those emails, then open the rest and determine which of the remaining messages really needs a response. Isn’t that how you do it? We have become masters of identifying spam and fluff, able to quickly filter out the chain mail and political rants from well-meaning family members or coworkers. We’ve become so efficient at this we can perform mass deletions without reading more than the first few words of the subject line.

Now let’s turn the tables and think about the messages YOU send to your friends, family, coworkers, customers, prospects or anyone else you might send an email to. Are those people looking at your name in their inbox and thinking “oh, another email from him.” Or are they looking at the subject line, wondering if they should just delete it without reading it?

As I’ve spent time improving my own communication throughout my career, and preparing a course for Pluralsight about writing better emails, I’ve become convinced that we need to be more purposeful and strategic in what we are communicating in our subject lines. Of course, once you get past that point, and your recipient opens the email, what will they find?

Here are five components of an effective email that will not only be opened, but read and responded to as well:

Use a good subject line. – Using a good subject line ensures your email will not be counted as spam or deleted without the person actually reading it. The subject line first need to get past the spam protection, so writing something about winning the lottery or using too many exclamation points might prevent your email from ever getting to the recipient in the first place. Then it needs to pass the recipient’s own test of validity and importance, so putting the name of a politician or something cute might be regarded as “don’t have time for this funny stuff, it’s fine to delete it and not respond.”

When you write your emails, write purposeful, grabbing (but not salesy) subject lines. Some people swear by putting as many details into a concise subject line as possible (such as “confirm call on Thursday at noon — you call me?”), and sometimes people will put everything in a short subject line with EOM at the end. EOM means “end of message” (so there’s no need to open the email).

Put the message (or you) into context. – The first one or two sentences in your email should always put the message into context, and help the readers remember or understand how they know you. It might be something like “I saw you speak at the conference last weekend” or “I found your profile on LinkedIn when I was looking for xyz experts.” Or you might say something like “John Smith said you worked together and he recommended I reach out to you. He said you are one of the experts in this area and if anyone could help me, you could, or would know where to point me.”

Give a reason. –  Forgo the temptation to spend a paragraph or two talking about yourself and things not likely relevant to the recipient. Once you have established context, let them know exactly why you are writing the email, and what you hope to get from them (information, an introduction, time on the phone, etc.).

Include next steps or a call to action. – Too often I read emails from people who leave the next steps ambigious, or don’t include a call to action. It leaves me wondering if it’s an informational email that I can simply file away, or if I’m required to do something with it. Make the next step explicitly clear. If there isn’t a next step, and it really is just an email to share information, let them know!

The email signature. – This is a branding opportunity where you can remind your readers of who you are and how they could perceive you, or a way to inform of additional channels of communication. I see too many missed opportunities with weak or non-existent email signatures.

Are your emails effective? Are they getting the responses you want? Are your emails delivering the message you want to communicate? If not, I encourage you to take a few more minutes when you craft your emails, be more purposeful and clear, and make it easier for recipients to really get the messages you intend.

About the Author

is founder and creator of He is a Pluralsight author of multiple courses on job search, career management and personal branding. You can find all his courses on his Pluralsight author page.

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