How to Write Emails That Don’t Suck

Email: We love to hate it. It’s such a convenient form of communication, but inboxes can get out of hand in a hurry, creating a virtual ball and chain that make us want to rip out the wifi, throw the computer out the window, and move to a mysterious island.

Or maybe that’s just me?

Well, if you know the feeling, I’ve got good news. You have it in your power to write better emails in a way that invites better (and fewer) emails in return.

The tips below are time-saving tactics I use to help me communicate more efficiently and effectively using email.

4 Quick Tips to Help You Write Better Emails

Whether you’re planning a meeting, deciding on where to meet for dinner, or just sharing an update, the tips below will cut the number of back and forth emails required to get the desired outcome.

1. Get to the Point (Immediately)

Imagine you receive a forwarded email from a colleague. It’s five huge paragraphs of text, and you have only the vaguest idea of what it’s about based on the subject line.

Ugh.

Do your reader a favor and state your point right up front, in a sentence or two (if you’re forwarding an email, do the same thing by summarizing it). By doing that, you’ve set your reader in the proper context to understand the details that will follow.

2. Narrow Down the Options

This was me on the phone in high school trying to decide where to eat dinner:

Me: Where do you want to eat dinner?

Friend: I don’t know, what do you want?

Me: I don’t really care, you pick.

Friend: Well, I it doesn’t matter to me. Whatever is fine.

Seriously? I annoy myself. What an awful time-waster!

For you, maybe the conversation isn’t about dinner, but it’s about trying to find a time to meet or trying to lead a client to a decision point.

Defining a set of options for your reader to choose from helps them make a decision more quickly and enables you to get exactly the information you need.

For example, if you’re scheduling a meeting:

  • I’m available Monday or Friday at 4pEST, or Tuesday at 9aEST. Which time works for you?
  • Would you prefer to meet via phone or Skype? My cell number is X and my Skype handle is Y.

Pro tip: For scheduling meetings, I use Calendly. That enables me to narrow down available times that I know work for my schedule and then invite someone to select the time that best matches their schedule. Once they pick a time, it automatically sets up a calendar appointment for both of us. I can also collect their phone number (or Skype, or whatever) at the same time.

3. Anticipate Your Recipient’s Questions

Questions inevitably lead to more questions. If you ask me where I want to eat, I might ask you what you’re in the mood for, and so on.

You can avoid unnecessary email volume by anticipating what question(s) your reader may have and answering them ahead of time.

Let’s continue with the above example, where the italicized questions are ones I’m guessing the recipient might ask.

If you’re scheduling a meeting:

  • How much time do I need to block for the meeting? The meeting won’t go over 30 minutes.
  • What are we going to discuss Please plan to discuss A and B.
  • Will anyone else be on the call? Roger ‘ll also join us.

Pro tip: If you offer email support for a product or service, using this tactic in the form of a FAQ on your website is a huge time-saver. Even if people email you before reading your FAQ, being able to offer a canned response pointing to your FAQ saves you time.

4. End by Telling the Recipient What You’d Like Them to Do Next

Don’t you just love emails that never actually ask you to do anything? You don’t know how to respond because the sender hasn’t clarified what action you need to take.

Consider this example of an email through my contact form when asked: “What Can I Do For You?”

Wanna do online magazine names Calvin, godson of late great actor jeff conaway

My thought? I don’t even know what the heck that means, let alone how to respond, so I didn’t.

Wrapping up your email with a call to action skyrockets your chances that the recipient will respond accordingly.

Understand I’m not talking about marketing emails or converting in a sales sense, even though the technique has some overlap. This is about stating specifically what you’d like your recipient to do (or not do) as a result of the information you’ve conveyed in your message.

Back to our meeting example:

Or you may be conveying some info and don’t even need a response. In that case, say so!

For example,

  • Hey! No need to respond to this — just wanted to say I enjoyed meeting you at the conference last weekend and look forward to reading your blog.

The clearer you are about what you’re communicating AND the action you need the recipient to take, the better chance you have of creating an effective and more concise email exchange, saving your time and, more importantly, your sanity.

If you’d like to learn more about writing better emails and overall email productivity, check out these articles by Matt Perman.

You may also enjoy: Solid time management strategies that save you time and make you money

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