Are your emails being overlooked or ignored? If so, you may need to follow these simple steps to get your emails read, understood and acted upon.
Step 1 – Avoid email overload
Before commencing to write an email, consider whether email is the most appropriate and effective form of communicating your message. A telephone call or face-to-face discussion, in many circumstances, may be preferable.
Step 2 – Make good use of subject lines
If you want your email to be opened, ensure your subject line clearly summarises your message and grabs the reader’s attention. To do this keep the following in mind:
- Use a descriptive subject line – your reader is more likely to read and respond to an email they can easily recognise and prioritise. Be as specific as possible.
- Keep subject lines short – use no more than eight words. If a long subject line is needed, make sure the first few words clearly conveys the point of your email.
Step 3 – Ensure the body of the email is brief, concise and well structured
Have you ever sent an email that caused confusion and took further communication to clarify? Miscommunication can occur if an email is unclear, disorganised or just too long and complex for recipients to easily follow. Strive for brevity and clarity in your email writing and keep the following in mind:
- Restrict the email to a single topic. If it is necessary to deal with a second topic, clearly refer to both topics in the subject line and clearly differentiate between them in the body of the email.
- Structure your email so it is easy to follow. Start with the most important information and try to summarise the contents in the first sentence or paragraph. If actions are required in response to your email, state this upfront, along with what action is required, by whom and when. If the content of an email answers the following questions in the order listed, it will make it easier for the recipient to process the information and be able to respond with ease:
- Must I read this?
- When do I need to read it?
- What am I supposed to do?
- How am I to do it?
- By when must I do it?
- Where can I get help if I need it?
- Use headings and bullet points effectively. If an email is longer than two-thirds of your screen, use headings to help guide the recipient through the text. In doing this, it will make your email visually scannable helping the reader skim through and understand the gist of the email. In addition to headings, bullet points can be used to:
- highlight important information
- make the content easy to scan
- communicate information efficiently.
- Keep paragraphs short. Use concise language to ensure sentences are short and to the point and paragraphs are not too long. Concise language involves using the most effective words and omitting unnecessary words.
Step 4 – Check your tone
In writing, tone is defined as the writer’s attitude or emotions toward the topic and the recipient of the message. Using the appropriate tone in any piece of Defence correspondence is an important aspect of communicating the desired message and of achieving the desired outcome. Check your tone. If it sounds overly assertive, pushy, angry or rude for the intended recipient and purpose of your email, rewrite the offending sentences.
Step 5 – Proofread
Remember that your emails are a reflection of your professionalism and attention to detail. Hence, re-read them before you hit ‘send’. Review your email for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors (use the spelling and grammar checker). If you are concerned about your tone or whether your email meets your intent, have a colleague proofread it for you.
Use these simple techniques to ensure your emails are the ones everyone wants to read and action.
Australian Defence Force Writing Manual, Chapter 9
MindTools, Writing Effective Emails, viewed 26 November 2017, https://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/EmailCommunication.htm
Western Sydney University, Writing Effective Emails, viewed 26 November 2017, https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/internalcomms/internal_comms/tips,_resources_-and-_templates/writing_effective_emails
Coursera, 4.3 Writing Effective Emails, viewed 26 November 2017, https://www.coursera.org/learn/management-leadership-english/lecture/Ko1pt/4-3-writing-effective-emails
The Writing Center, Effective E-mail Communication, viewed 26 November 2017, https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/effective-e-mail-communication/
About the authors:
This article was produced by a team of dedicated educators from the Education Wing at the Land Warfare Centre. Education Wing is available to support individual and unit educational needs – just contact them through the DPN.