Saturday, August 22, 2009

How To Write An Effective E-Mail

I asked my BEL 311 students to write an e-mail during yesterday... here are some pointers that might help them...

Effective e-mails

ACCORDING to technology market research firm, The Radicati Group, an average of 210 e-mails are sent per day with business users sending and receiving about 156 e-mails per day (reported in August 2008).

The majority is spam, which still leaves an average of sixty-plus e-mails flooding your inbox every day.

With 1.3 billion e-mail users worldwide, it isn’t surprising to hear people state: “I’m buried in e-mails at the moment.” Despite this, Dr Sara Radicati, president and CEO of the The Radicati Group, still believes that “e-mail saves time”.

Some tips: There are several things to take note of when sending e-mail.
And why not? No matter where you are, no matter what time of the day it is, and no matter what you may be doing, you can still receive and send messages at the click of a mouse to one or thousands within your network.

Due to this, some people take e-mails for granted and fall into an automatic mode of “shooting off” e-mails as fast as they get them. It isn’t surprising then to read that we’re under “e-mail attacks”!

Imagine having 60 people at your door every day – soon, you’ll limit the people you’d agree to meet. To deal with the avalanche of e-mails, most people filter their incoming e-mails according to the sender’s name or subject heading. Everything else either gets moved to a KIV (keep in view) folder, marked as spam or goes straight into the recycled bin.
Which e-mails get ignored?

In general, e-mails least likely to get a person’s attention fall into these categories:
E-mails that do not require the recipient’s action i.e. copied or “c.c.”-ed emails.
E-mails containing more than ten names in the “To” section – such e-mails are labelled as general or opinion-seeking e-mails. Recipients tend to delay their responses to these e-mails, thinking that nine others are available to respond.

E-mails containing one-word responses e.g. “OK”, “Thanks, everyone.”
Forum-like e-mails which contain endless replies after replies on a topic of discussion.
If your e-mails do not fall into the above categories and you’re still not getting any response, here are some sure-fire ways of ensuring that your e-mails are read and responded to.
Make every e-mail count
Are you known as the “e-mail queen” or “e-mail king” at the office? Before you start feeling glamorous, this title could be due to your sending one too many e-mails (and overloading the computer servers).

If yes, review the e-mails that you send. Ask yourself:
Was it necessary to send an e-mail when walking over to someone’s desk or talking on the phone would have been a better option?

Was each e-mail sent to share useful information or to require some form of action from the recipient(s)?

If you answered No, it’s time to pause and take a deep breath before you send your next e-mail. Keeping your e-mails to a minimum will ensure that your recipients treat each e-mail from you with respect and urgency, rather than just another e-mail to be deleted.

Format matters

For an overview of what an e-mail should look like, go to E-mails, like any other business correspondence, follow a certain format. Here’s how to use each section effectively:

1. ‘To’ – Include only the person(s) whose action is required.

2. ‘C.c’ – Include only those who need to be informed of the situation at hand.

3. ‘B.c.c’ – Known as ‘blind circulatory copy’, the recipients in this line will not be seen by recipients in the ‘To’ and ‘C.c.’ lists. This feature is commonly used for sending mass e-mails as listing out everyone’s e-mail address exposes them to the risk of getting more spam.

4. ‘Subject’ – Used to mentally prepare the recipient scanning a list of e-mails for further action, being as specific as possible. For example, “Confirmation of list of speakers for Beijing press conference” is more descriptive than “Beijing press conference”. Use “Urgent”, “Important” and red flags only when necessary as you don’t want to go through what The Boy Who Cried Wolf in Aesop’s fables did. Also, send out an e-mail with no subject headings and you’ll get no replies.

5. Body of e-mail – In composing your message, keep in mind the following:

> E-mails are not essays. Think of your key points before you write. If you need to write a long e-mail, break up your key messages into paragraphs, one for each point. Use headings to summarise each point, and numbers or bullets to help the reader scan your message quickly and easily.

> Keep it short and simple. Restrict your message to 100 words at most. A short message will fit into the preview function of most e-mail programs. If readers need not scroll down the e-mail to read further, they are more likely to respond to your e-mail immediately.

> Avoid writing in caps, red fonts or multiple coloured fonts. Not only would a message written in capitals or red fonts be difficult to read, such features also mean shouting or anger in the online world. Multi-coloured fonts look cheery but they are hard on the eyes and may be lost on e-mail programs applying the text-only function.

Signing off
Unless the recipient knows you personally, it’s best to include your first and last names in your signature. Multinational organisations use a format which includes your name, job designation, department, name of organisation and full contact details. In today’s multicultural environment, capitalising your last name – e.g. Christine JALLEH – helps the reader identify it.
When signing off, consider the level of formality as you choose signatures ranging from the most formal to the least.

Christine Jalleh is a communications specialist with a Master’s degree in English Language Studies. She blogs about English, culture and travel at

1 comment:

christinejalleh said...

Hello there! Nice to see that my recent article on effective emails is being shared with polytechnic students.

I think you're doing a good job starting them from young :)

Let me know if there are any topics you'd like to know more about, ok?

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