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Tips for writing better emails

  1. Write a meaningful subject line
    Email recipients scan the subject line to decide what to do with the email: read it now, keep it for later, forward it, etc.  So, before you hit 'Send', take a moment to write a subject line that accurately describes the content of your email; it may be worthwhile to write this after writing the email. This also means that, if the major focus of an on-going email conversation changes, rewrite the subject to reflect this.
  2. Keep emails short
    Where possible, keep emails short. If you have two or three unrelated requests split them up, send separate emails that each focus on a single action or request. Shorter emails will likely be read more easily and responded to more quickly, particularly if each email has a single focus.  If the email is getting very long ask yourself if it would be more appropriate to telephone the recipient or request a face-to-face meeting?
  3. State what you want right away
    Do not write a long introduction. Within the first couple of sentences state clearly why you are writing this email: what do you want?
  4. Use if…then statements
    If you can anticipate the recipient’s possible responses and offer them alternatives. Email is a back-and-forth conversation but because it is not instant you may have to wait a day or more to receive a reply. You may want to limit the number of round trips the email has to make by anticipating possible responses, e.g. 'Have you heard from Mr Smith yet? If so please finish the report by Thursday and email it to me. If not please chase him up and let me know his response.'
  5. Do not assume privacy
    Sending an email is like sending a postcard: it may be read by others. Do not use email to discuss confidential information.
  6. Proof-read before you send
    Before you hit 'Send' take a moment to re-read what you’ve written.  Ask yourself: does the email make sense?  Have you included enough information so that the recipient won’t need to email you back to ask for more, such as dates, times, locations, etc.?  Is there any ambiguity about what you have requested? Have you remembered to include any attachments? Does the email have a meaningful subject line?
  7. Clean up emails before you send them
    If you are replying to or forwarding a message, as a courtesy to the recipient, clean up the email before you send it.  Remove any unnecessary text, including email headers, signatures and strings of ‘>>>’.  Don’t let the important message get lost in a sea of 'text noise'.
  8. Do not overuse Reply All
    Only use Reply All if you are sure that your message must be seen by each person who received the original email; this may have been by prior agreement within a group. Do not use Reply All when only the original sender needs to know your reply.  Do not use Reply All when your message simply says "thanks" or "me too". Do not use Reply All when you were included as a 'Bcc' recipient of the original message, as this will reveal yourself as a recipient.
  9. Sending to mailing lists
    When sending to mailing lists, where you want to ensure that recipients cannot accidentally reply to all, add your own email address to the 'To' field and the mailing list address to the 'Bcc' (blind carbon copy) field.  This way only you will be replied to. Failing to do this can result in thousands of unnecessary emails if everyone hits 'Reply All'.
  10. Using To, Cc and Bcc
    Use the 'To' field for those recipients from whom you would like a response, and the 'Cc' (carbon copy) field for those who simply need to know what the email is about but not act on it.  Use 'Bcc' to hide recipients' email addresses from one another.
  11. Include a signature
    Always include a signature at the foot of the email, which includes your name and contact details, even to people who know you well, as it can save them time looking up your telephone number if they need to call you back. Keep your signature as short as you can.

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