Towards more effective email

I’ve gone through several hundred emails in the course of managing OneMint, and I thought I’d do a small post with some ideas on writing better emails, as writing emails has become an important part of most people’s jobs, but there’s hardly any help on how you can do it effectively.

Here are a few things that I’ve seen work well, and I hope you can benefit from these ideas too.

1. Context: I receive several emails which have a question, but no background information, or context on what the person is trying to do.

A couple of months ago I received an email from someone saying I send out more than 500 emails every day, but he isn’t able to do that, and was wondering how I did it.

My first thoughts on reading that email was: I don’t send 500 emails, who are you and why do you want to send so many emails? Do I know you? Why should I answer this question?

Of course, I didn’t say any of these things but responded with a question on what the person was trying to do, and turns out he needed to set up a Feedburner like thing which is a fairly straightforward thing to do.

If you give a one or two line context and then proceed to explain what you are trying to achieve then that makes it a lot easier for the person who is reading your question to understand what you’re really trying to do, and you should always make a point of doing that when starting a new email thread.

2. Don’t start with a negative: Don’t start with a negative if you’re trying to get an answer. If you start your email with “you are wrong because….” you are likely to annoy the person reading the email and the chances of co-operation diminish significantly.

Start with stating the fact, and then your position on why that is wrong. This gives a sort of a mental cushion and also helps your thought process. I’ve seen several instances of where someone wrote someone else was wrong, but when you read closely the person just didn’t understand what the first commenter said.

3. Give a reason: If you give people a reason on why you’re asking them to do something then they are much more likely to respond to you. A lot of times we think that we can just ask someone something or that somebody really doesn’t need to know why we are asking them, but you’re just making it harder on yourself.

Giving a reason is a more polite and effective way of asking things and brings the recipient of the request on board with what you’re trying to achieve. You may think that you can just tell your subordinates what to do but if you tell them why you’re asking that your request is likely to get carried out more sincerely.

4. Close the loop: If you make it a habit of writing a short thank you or acknowledgment note at the end of a conversation then that will help you stand out from the majority that doesn’t do this.

Someone sends me an email with a question, I take the time to respond to that and then silence. If I look at it later I wonder if the response really did help the person, was he or she convinced, did the response go to the spam folder or what happened?

And if it repeatedly happens then you just get the feeling that this guy is only interested till he gets an answer and you reduce your chances of co-operation in the future.

Close the loop with a small note – it’s only good manners, and helps your cause in the long run.

5. Don’t worry about over-communicating: A friend once told me that no one likes surprises but some people don’t even like good surprises.

When someone emailed him he used to send an acknowledgment immediately saying he had received the message, and the expected time on when he will respond with an answer. Then at that time he would either respond, or give another time, and follow it up with another email until he closed the loop completely.

While I’m not that good with everyone, I try to at least keep those people informed who I want to develop a long term relationship with.

You don’t want to keep people guessing when you can get them at ease in 30 seconds.

These are few things that come to my mind as I think about making email communication more effective. There are several readers here who interact with me through email or in comments and are great examples of doing the right thing, and immediately make a positive impression. I’ve learned a lot from them and have imbibed some of these good habits only after seeing them in others. I’d recommend you to try out these ideas and see if it helps your communication or not.

11 thoughts on “Towards more effective email”

  1. I liked the article very much. All said is true & helpful to make us a professional.
    Thanks for nice articles each time.

  2. Great article. I thought I would share with you a way you can complement your emails even more so. We are finding that adding voice with your text can make it an even more effective email. In fact, companies like the Dallas Cowboys and Plantronics are finding this a great way to not only make your emails more effective, but drive additional revenue. Feel free to visit our website to learn more.

  3. Thanks Manshu. You have given some very valuable tips especially the one on followup and thanking people. This article also teaches me not to take anything on face value. When I read the title of this article, I thought, I write so many mails during the course of the day whats there for me to learn. But then I did end up learning a few things.

    1. Thanks Hema – good to hear from you and I learned that I have to work on my headline writing skills 🙂 I’ve never paid much attention to them, but I think it’s high time I give some thought to “crafting” headlines as well.

  4. Good one 🙂 A Thank you acknowledgment is really important. It takes just minutes and a good mindset to tell a thank you but in the long run loyalty proves to be a value investment 🙂

    1. I see this point has resonated a bit – doesn’t even have to be a thank you really, just a small note that you’ve read goes a long way in my opinion. I know you’re good at doing that 🙂

  5. Well well said……..e-mail is the most powerful tool in today’s world. People who are e-mail lovers are always riding on a blackberry!


    1. Blackberry is fast losing ground to Android based phones now, so very soon you will have throngs of suit types on an HTC instead of a BB 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *