Writing effective emails

Let’s talk about writing emails. As writers, you will be writing and sending a lot of electronic communications during your careers. Everyone needs to write emails and there are several tips you can use to write those that effectively deliver your message. (Coincidentally many of these tips can be used in your other writing.)

email-envelope_originalA.T.T.P.Audience, Tone, Topic, Purpose – I’ve written about this before but in a nutshell always write to your specific audience, keep your tone consistent, keep to the topic and know why you are writing.

Subject line – There are those who throw away the power of the subject line. By thinking they are being clever, they’ll put a subject line like “Ha!” or “Read this!” or “Fw.Fw.Fw. best joke.”

Think about how you look at and use your emails – first you check who they are from and then you look to see what they are about. I’m pretty busy, emails with a subject line of “Ha!” usually get read last or even deleted. Subject lines that get my attention are those that do me a favor by telling me what’s in the email (they also help me to locate old emails.) “Query from W. Thomas” or “Suggestions for holiday party” are much more effective and give the reader value. Use the subject line as the tool it is.

Salutation – unless it’s a close friend (and even then reconsider) don’t ever start an email with “Yo!” Instead either put the name of the person to whom the email is addressed or simply start the text of the email. If it is a formal email, you may certainly use traditional letter convention and start with “Dear Mr. Smith.”

Body – most emails should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you have a problem – state what the problem is, why it’s a problem, and the solution. If you have a proposal – state what you are proposing, why and then conclude with the specifics of the proposal.  Organize your thoughts and get to the point.

Stay on topic – I know I mentioned topic above in the A.T.T.P. but it deserves a second mention. Please, please, please don’t fall into the “and another thing” trap. Keep your email to one topic and if you really need to talk about something else then either use headers to break it up or write a second email. People are busy, they can only do one thing at a time. Do your work to make reading your message easier for them.

Paragraphs – keep them short and have a return between each paragraph to create white space. It has been shown that people don’t read left to right when they are in front of a monitor, instead they scan vertically. It will help the reader (and you to get your message across) if you keep the paragraphs short.  Likewise, put separate ideas in separate paragraphs. Too much information in one paragraph runs the risk of that information getting lost.

Closing – You don’t really need to put a closing on an email, but if you do use a traditional “end of letter” closing, either type your name or use something like “Best wishes, Wendy.”

Use emails as a chance to practice your organization and writing skills and then carry this over to your other writing. Because in the end, the more effectively you write your message, the more likely it is to be heard.



Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

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