10 best practices for writing emails

Best Practice Writing Emails

Email is now the unofficial way we judge someone as a competent person. I hate to even say that. My initial defensive reaction is, “No, people are very forgiving! They know that we’re writing emails on our phones and tablets and that we don’t always spell something correctly or capitalize everything. Surely, people give us the benefit of the doubt when reading our emails.”

I’m sorry, but we don't. We’re extremely judgmental, even if we don’t mean to be. When we see an email with typos, a lower-case “i” (as in, “i don’t know about that.”), or a string of phrases without punctuation, we tend to judge the other person as a frazzled, not to be taken seriously, even incompetent.

Since email has become ubiquitous, it’s time for us to step up our email game. Here are 10 best practices for writing fantastic emails:

1. If responding, read the other person’s email thoroughly first. Look for any questions the person is asking. Piece together the main areas of concern the person has. Take notes, if you have to, and create a rough outline of how to address each of the other person’s points. Structure your email to address the other person’s points first, then add your own concerns and agenda items later.

2. Start with a salutation. I sometimes omit this if I’m going back and forth rapidly with a friend or long-time client, but professionals generally use some sort of salutation, even if it’s just the other person’s first name.

3. If you’re looking for a quick response, write a very short email, 100 words or less. The longer your email, the longer the response time on the other side – that’s practically a scientific principle.

4. Use short paragraphs. Don’t write an email as one long paragraph. Paragraphs should typically be 1-3 sentences long. If you’re giving substantial feedback, that’s different and may justify long paragraphs, but for discussing most things in email, short paragraphs work just fine.

5. Use bullet points. People love bullet points, and they’re highly underutilized in email. If you’re going back-and-forth on a timeline or different peoples’ responsibilities or just summarizing your points in an email, bullet points can really help to bring a sense of organization and clarity to the email.

6. If it’s an especially long email (500+ words), summarize at the end. Again, bullet points and numbered lists are great for summarizing.

7. Feel free to use exclamation points! Nothing makes you sound like a robot more than declarative sentence after declarative sentence. Text-based communication is already boring. Add a bit of emotion, whether excitement or irritation, with exclamation points.

8. But not too many exclamation points!!!!!! That makes you look like a high school cheerleader. Of course, if you’re talking with your friends about a trip to Vegas, six exclamation points may be entirely justified. For the most part, though, one exclamation point is plenty.

9. Use spell check. There are a lot of way to run spell check. Personally, I love Ginger, a web-based app that checks my spelling everywhere I’m typing inside of my Google Chrome browser – my emails, my Facebook posts, and the comments I leave on blogs. I’d be lost (and often embarrassed) without my Ginger add-on.

10. Add a signature at the end of your emails from your browser, and your phone, and your tablet. Nothing says, “Don’t take this email seriously” like that bit at the end, “Sent from my iPhone.” Take 10 minutes, go into settings, and add your name, job title, website, and cell phone number. It’ll do wonders for your credibility.

BONUS: Read your email before you send it! Cut out extra information, words, and phrases. Add or delete exclamation points to convey your emotion. Double-check your grammar. Add paragraph breaks when you can. If you read your email before you send it, you’ll come across as more professional and reliable, and your words will even sound more like yourself.

What did I miss?

Any rules or tips you would add to help everyone write better emails? Leave a comment below! (See how I added that exclamation point to let you know that I’m excited about you leaving a comment below?)