5 Deadly Sins Of Email Writing - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Software // Social
08:06 AM
Connect Directly

5 Deadly Sins Of Email Writing

Think the world revolves around you? Still refuse to write Twitter-style? No wonder colleagues ignore your emails.

With people sending and receiving more than 100 billion emails every day, it's no wonder clients and employees may miss -- or ignore -- your messages. According to productivity expert Neen James, information overload is to blame.

"People are just so overwhelmed. Emails, Facebook messages, tweets, texts -- all of this contributes to the problem," she said. "It's the information age, and that volume of information is increasing. People are inundated."

Changing the way you compose your emails can increase the odds that your colleagues and clients not only read them, but act on them, too. Here are five reasons recipients are skipping your messages, plus tips for changing that.

[ Some Yahoo users got more than they bargained for. Read more: Yahoo Recycled Emails: Users Find Security Surprises. ]

1. You forwarded a message
Randy Dean, email and productivity expert, said emails that begin with FWD in the subject line tend to be ignored immediately. "Many people forward messages with headers like 'Just thought you'd like to know,' or 'Can you please handle this?'" Dean said. "This is asking for people to skip over your message. There is no clarity or urgency in the message header or initial text."

Instead, tweak the subject line so your recipient knows why the email is important. This can include what they need to know, what they need to do, and when they need to get it done, Randall said.

2. Your subject lines are vague
Vague subject lines are just as bad as forwarded messages, according to James. To improve the chance of the recipient opening and reading your message, each email should contain an action-oriented subject line.

"People tweet in 140 characters or less to get a message across, and people should think of their subject line the same way," she said. "Tell your recipient exactly what you need from them in the subject line."

Another method: Develop a set of standards within your department -- or better yet, your company. This could include placing keywords such as "invoice" or "meeting" in the subject line as the first word so your recipients know how to respond, she said.

3. Your emails are all about you
"If you really want people to read your email, you need to make it about them and not you," James said. Before you click send, count the number of times you wrote "I," "me," and "my." If you notice the tally marks adding up, consider rewording your email, directing it more toward the recipient and what you want them to do.

4. Your emails are too long
Long, detailed emails are sometimes necessary. Increase the likelihood of others reading them by making them easily digestible. James recommends adding an executive summary at the top, which lets the recipient quickly scan for basic information. Use bullet points to call out important details, and add bold or italics to emphasize certain parts.

5. Your email is unnecessary
Before you click send, ask yourself: Do you really need to send that email? "The less you -- and everyone around you -- send unnecessary emails, the more likely they are to read your necessary ones," Dean said. "Make sure your emails have a valid and necessary purpose and are task-based."

What tips and tricks do you use to improve the quality of your emails? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

There's no single migration path to the next generation of enterprise communications and collaboration systems and services, and Enterprise Connect delivers what you need to evaluate all the options. Register today and learn about the full range of platforms, services and applications that comprise modern communications and collaboration systems. Register with code MPIWK and save $200 on the entire event and Tuesday-Thursday conference passes or for a Free Expo pass. It happens in Orlando, Fla., March 17-19.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Author
11/18/2013 | 4:01:55 PM
Re: To the Point
I'm actually MORE likely to read a forwarded email, because I figure someone has made a conscious effort to forward it to me. The sender has actually thought about it. Reply To All email strings are the truly mindless ones, in my book.
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
11/18/2013 | 2:57:57 PM
What counts as a reason?
Does the venerable "CYA" count as a good reason to send an email? Let's face it -- sometimes you want to be able to say: "Yeah, I sent email about that. Oh, you didn't read it and now the [ahem] has hit the fan? Gee, sorry."

Not that I would personally know about doing that.
Kristin Burnham
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
11/18/2013 | 12:00:52 PM
Re: Death to "reply to all"
Without a doubt, the reply-all button is my biggest pet peeve. Promotions, departures: Send a personal message and please don't CC everyone!
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/18/2013 | 10:47:21 AM
Death to "reply to all"
I commit this sin every day, but carrying on an extended conversation via a "reply to all" email thread is a sign that email is the wrong collaboration medium for your discussion.

My favorite recent story: the person who sent a message to all employees about leaving the company, which produced an extended series of "we'll miss you" emails -- in the middle of which, someone kept replying to all to say, "stop replying to all."
User Rank: Author
11/18/2013 | 9:18:27 AM
3-sentence limit
I read a suggestions once to keep all emails to 3 sentences. It doesn't always make sense to do, but it's a good starting point to challenge ourselves to keep it tighter. 
User Rank: Author
11/18/2013 | 8:55:27 AM
The dreaded cc all
Another pet peeve: emails that unnecessarily cc everyone in the company -- and go on forever. We've all received them (and perhaps sent them!).
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

Becoming a Self-Taught Cybersecurity Pro
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  6/9/2021
Ancestry's DevOps Strategy to Control Its CI/CD Pipeline
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  6/4/2021
IT Leadership: 10 Ways to Unleash Enterprise Innovation
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  6/8/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Planning Your Digital Transformation Roadmap
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
Flash Poll