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How to write an email

For Real People

February 3, 2020

Focus on the recipient

For an email to work for you -- the sender -- you need write it for the person you’re sending. While you're typing the recipient’s name, you need to immediately start thinking about what they want from this message so they can give you what you need.

Select your verb

Choose the main verb carefully: the word that describe the action that is most important for your reader. Do you want them to decide, review, verify, select, change, suggest or approve? When you write an email, make sure the intent and functionality of your product is front and center in your message, so the receiver understands how to scan, digest, and act on your message.

Use standard headers

Make sure that the subject of your email is in the subject line. Once your entire team adopts a standard format for those, your inboxes will be much easier to manage. Examples:

Action Required COB: This means you need this email to read and respond before business ends. COB stands for Close Of Business.This section should deal with the end of any normal working day (the end of the day for your particular business). These are actions where you require a single day response. Recipients should not walk out the door until they complete these.

Functionality Required EOD: This means that email has something important for the next day’s work. EOD signifies the end of the day, so this means that night is 11:59, and tomorrow is the day before the start. If the sender works at 8:00 am, it should be in their inbox at 7:59 am.

For anything other than COB or EOD, use a specific time or date to make it clear to your  audience exactly when you need a response.

Primer for [event]: This means that the email has information to be read before another event. This does not mean you don’t need an email response.

FYI: This means email isn’t urgent, and can be filed and read later if needed.

Not only does having a good subject line help it search and retrieve information when it matters.

Make subject lines informative

After the header, add enough information to allow the receiver to evaluate the message. Your actions come from here. A clear verb and a specific name make for a good subject line.

Here are some examples:

  • Action Required COB: Adjust the date for the meeting
  • Required Action Friday: Sign the required form
  • Primer for Friday’s bid meeting: Read the presenter’s preliminary notes
  • FYI: New employee onboarding rules

Start with the line of action

  • After a great subject line, the most important feature of team messaging is the quality of the first line. That first line should be as short as possible and focus on the required functionality. Granted, it  overlaps with the subject line here. That’s ok though: our busy brain needs the repetition of important things.
  • Make sure that the verbs have been clearly identified, and that the main names stand out.

Provide additional context and content

Leave a few blank lines before you add any other content to your message. That makes the action line stand out. If you need to relay different activities to different recipients, place those instructions in the proper section. Do this and include only the materials that support the required goals.

Revise for brevity and clarity

Review your message with the primary goal of making the recipient more effective doing what you need them to do. Meanwhile, correct the typos. Be careful to avoid judgmental words that may lead to a response which you are not looking for.

Eliminate excessive CCs

Working as an email receiver means that you don’t add people to the CC line unless the message is useful. Hiding your ass is not the right reason to email someone. If you think you need to notify somebody else, it can be done with a special email designed for that person. You can forward your email using another subject line and another action line..

Conclusion

In this wild and crazy, changing world of ours, it is more than ever critical to help everyone understand what to look for and what to pay attention to. Implementing these standards in your team’s operations will help you prioritize important messages.

The Mailman

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