Write Emails that Don’t Drive People Crazy

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Have you noticed that email volume is reaching crisis proportions? The ease of email causes people to be careless about how they use it. Apparently businesses lose billions of dollars a year due to loss of productivity from employees dealing with unnecessary emails. I think many of us are just a few rambling emails away from a complete nervous breakdown. But never fear… a 7-step list to the rescue!

7 Tips for Emails that Work

1. Keep it brief.

Aim for 3 sentences. Yes, THREE. Otherwise, keep your emails as succinct as possible. If you have something in-depth that will take several paragraphs, consider a phone or Skype conversation. You know, talking. Like they used to do in the old days.

Frustrated-with-laptop

2. Get to the point.

Make it easy for the recipient to get the gist of your message right away. Don’t ramble.

3. Make questions and action points stand out.

DON’T bury your questions throughout the email in the middle of paragraphs! If there is action needed, or a question that needs an answer, make it VERY obvious. For example, you might want to number them and put them at the end of your email.

4. Use EOM.

This is a favorite – I put “EOM” at the end of the subject line to indicate “End of Message.” That is, the entire message is in the subject line. So in responding to an email requesting a phone call, my subject line might say, “I’ll call you Tues 3/6 at 4pm eastern — EOM.” The recipient doesn’t even need to open the email, they’ve got all the info they need.

5. Use a relevant and specific subject line.

Try NOT to use a generic subject line, such as “Thought you might want to know…” The subject line is for… wait for it… the actual subject of your email. Try to avoid using “Quick Question” as your subject line.

6. Change the subject line when necessary.

If you’re emailing back and forth with someone, and the topic changes mid-conversation, change the subject line! This is especially for those of you who never actually start a new email stream, but whenever you want to email someone, you simply grab the last email from them and hit “Reply.” Change the subject line, please.

7. Remember that every time you send an email, somewhere a fairy dies.

Well, maybe not. But it should at least make us think twice about it!

→ Bonus: What about “thank you” emails?

Most of us are trying to avoid too many unnecessary emails, yet the courtesy of telling somebody “thank you” is a very good thing, and we don’t need to lose all our manners in this rush-rush digital world. If you want to send a Thank You email, go for it.

What are your pet peeves about email? Do you have ideas for making it more effective?

 

Tweetables

“Every time you send an email, somewhere a fairy dies.” Email tips from @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.

“Write emails that don’t drive people crazy.” Tips from @RachelleGardner.  Click to Tweet.

“Keep it brief. Use a relevant subject line. Use EOM.” Email tips from @RachelleGardner.  Click to Tweet.

 

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32 Comments

  • On the subject of emails – I’m a contrarian. I believe that the drive for efficiency and a telegraphic style of communication is ultimately harmful to gentility, which is already sadly lacking in business and educational institutions.

    Clarity is one thing- it’s needed, and always was. But emails frequently have a brusque tone that I find offensive.

    The defense used is that time is money, and there is a requirement for productivity far beyond that which was expected in the pre-digital days.

    It’s a shibboleth. Time was always money, and quality institutions always demanded high levels of productivity. Many workers today have a sense of entitlement vis-a-vis breaks and ‘personal time and space’ on the job that would have resulted in quick termination forty years ago. (Boy, am I dating myself!)

    Back in the day, courteous communications were seen as value-added. I believe they still fulfill that role.

    I therefore compose business emails as I would a business letter, with an appropriate salutation, and introduction, expository paragraphs, and bulleted or numbered lists if needed.

    There is also a closing salutation.

    I’m less formal with personal email, but if the email is an occasional communication to a friend I’ll use an opening salutation of “Dear XXX,” and an appropriate closing salutation.

    Close friends with whom I email regularly get short “continuity” messages, but it takes awhile for me to get that comfortable and informal.

    Pet peeves?

    * Assumption of informality. Emails go to first-name basis too quickly. I actually have a title, and it’s not an honorific. It’s nice to have it recognized.

    * Omission of salutation. It does not take much extra time to open an email with “Dear” or even “Hello” or “Hi”.

    * Use of SMS acronyms. Fine in character-limited texts; lazy in emails.

    * Inclusion of all the text from previous emails in a single exchange. It’s easy enough to delete.

    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. It’s back to the Jurassic for me, now.

    • I’m a dinosaur like you, Andrew. I doubt I have ever sent a 3 line message. I like people telling me a little extra when they write. I had no idea my messages were causing consternation because I asked more than one question at times. I thought one e-mail covering what you wanted to know would be better than three or four. Sigh. Sometimes, it’s tough to be a dinosaur in a young electronic world.

      What kind of dinosaur are you, Andrew? I think I’ll be a T-Rex today. (See, I did shorten that name.)

    • Kathy Marker says:

      Andrew, (oops!) Mr. Budek-Schmeisser, someone taught me, only a few years ago, that when I forward emails to others, it is best to delete the email addresses of all those the sender had sent it to first, to help prevent those addresses getting spam, etc. I had never thought about it before. So now, when I forward messages, I delete all of those other names. If it is a continued discussion with one person, I delete all but the last email from the other person, so they can refer back to what they said, if needed, to see why I replied a certain way. Also, when I send out an email to many people at once, I always put their emails as ‘hidden;’ unless it’s to a group (like family) where I want them to know who all I sent it to. Thanks for the input.

  • Thank you for the helpful email advice. EOM

  • If I know that I shall be away from my office for a day or more, I ensure that Autoreply is active.

    In this day of instant but sometimes unreliable communication (for who has not seen an email disappear?), it is an important courtesy to reassure the sender that their missive has indeed arrived.

  • My pet peeve would be unclear emails that call for follow-up questions because the initial email did not cover necessary info.

    I would rather read a longer email that covers everything than have a series of emails with questions and responses back and forth to get it covered.

    I’m a teacher by profession and this happens a lot with my boss and colleagues. That’s why I spend some of my lunch break responding to parental emails–so I am not hounded with more questions in follow-up emails!

    I prefer to use bullet lists so information is succinct, and I can also avoid use of complete sentences that way.

    I’ve had a hard time getting used to how gmail, and now yahoo, group emails from the same sender together. I liked it the old way where each is a separate email, but when one has a large influx of email, it does keep it organized. So I like your advice, Rachelle, to change the subject line when needed.

    The “EOM” tip–I’m going to start using that because I do a lot of just typing the short message in the subject line. Thanks for the idea, but more importantly, now I will know what it means if I ever see it. I do not text, so I’m ignorant about many of the abbreviations. I’m sure there is some sort of term for that jargon, but I’m clueless on that too!

  • These are good tips, Rachelle. I tend to treat emails as a letter, because I’m a little old-fashioned that way. It’s mail. :)

    That said, I see times when being succinct and keeping my notes to three sentences is beneficial. I don’t always have to have a lead in paragraph when I just need to convey information or ask a question. I appreciate your other email etiquette tips as well. I need to be better about making sure my questions are easy to find.

    As for pet peeves, the main one for me is when I email someone and they never respond. Or when I ask a question but it doesn’t get answered. It takes extra time to follow up with a phone call or compose another email.

  • I rarely email. Most “notes” to friends are sent by Facebook now.

    I only email for business. When I do email, I place the subject and my name in the subject line so the receiver will know the email is from an actual person. I don’t know if this is proper, but I do it. Please let me know if I should change this.

    I’d rather pull my hair out than read a long email … a long anything … I do it, but it’s painful. :)

    Like Jeanne, I’m bothered when I don’t get a response or a timely one. Responses are critical in my work … the more days that pass are the less days I have to work on their material. I’m on a deadline.

  • These are useful points. I am also frustrated with lack of a clear subject line. Gmail threads can be helpful or very time consuming.

  • To do list update:

    Send Mary Keeley a 2 line email apologizing for my War and Peace-esque email from yesterday.

  • Thank you, Rachelle, for the helpful list and for making us smile with tip #7.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  • Whoa, I think I’m guilty of every one of these, especially the “quick question” subject header. I must be at least partially responsible for the lack of fairies in today’s world.

    On a side note, I learned the EOM trick from my agent a few years ago. I thought I was being so professional when I used it on someone from my publishing house. She wrote back, “What’s EOM and why did you send me a blank email?” We both had a good laugh after I explained.

  • Sarah Grimm says:

    Oh my, I’m guilty of a few of these I try to keep my emails short, because I hate reading long ones, but I’ve gone over three sentences many times. I’ve never tried 4, and I’m terrible with numbers 5 and 6.

    Many fairies died to bring us this message.

  • My pet peeve is when they sign off with a first name only. I cannot memorize everyone’s email address and sometimes I have to write back with a smiley “who are you?”

  • Rhonda Hayes says:

    Thank you for this article and thank you, even though it was a pass, for reading my manuscript. I have often wondered if it was appropriate, in this case, to send a thank you. We all know agents are busy and the last thing they need is another email. Now you’ve solved my problem. Subject Line: Thank you for your time and consideration. EOM.

  • “Hi” in the subject line! Stop it!

  • Debbie says:

    I think some people send too many emails in a week’s time. If people begin sending too many that I can’t keep up with, I’m likely to unsubscribe or delete them without reading them because too many from too many people takes up too much time. Sometimes people go overboard when it comes to quantity. Thanks for the post! EOM :)

  • BL Whitney says:

    When writing an email, I think it’s helpful to remember one of the inherent goals of communication. You have a need and want to get it met. We want to write to our audience (Aunt Hilda may want to hear our full adventure, but our agent is flooded with emails and needs the bottom line.) If I want a chance of getting an answer from an agent, I’m going for succinct and polite.

    About 10 years ago I was working for an author who received about 800 messages a day just on the email I managed. Many of them were spam but had to be looked at just in case. Automation and copy/paste replies are what got me though. That helps me empathize with agents – because that’s only one piece of their job.

    In spite of 2 jobs plus writing and keeping up with friends/family, I’ve so far managed to avoid getting flooded with messages, but I’m getting to a tipping point and things are slipping through the cracks that I used to be able to attend to. I suppose as things grow that will be inevitable.

    Thanks for the tips and interesting responses everyone.

  • Cheer Up Every One. There will be no e-mail addresses in heaven.

    – God does have a Facebook page –
    You should see how many friend requests he gets every day.

  • Penelope Childers says:

    I have learned to write one subject emails. Keep them brief. Works well.

  • Point taken. No more emails. Fairies die–sadness!

  • Sondra Kraak says:

    Wonderful tips, and nice succinct blog post!

  • Sidney Ross says:

    “Don’t think. When you think you lie. Live.” -Ray Bradbury

  • Too true, Rachelle. The glut of email can sometimes get overwhelming. I definitely have to sing the praises of # 5. If the subject line is vague, it makes it even harder to know which email to go back to later if the topic comes up again.

    Great post,
    Shaina, Tyndale House @Crazy4Fiction

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