How to Improve at Reading and Sending Emails

This article is about improving your skills in reading, comprehending, and responding to emails.

The emailing fundamentals mentioned below are under-educated and are beneficial to consider employing. Your personal emails can also implement the professional standards presented below to varying degrees.

Recipients List and Headers (To: Field, CC: Field, Subject Line)

The header is most often at the top of an email message. It includes basic information which can be addressed and accessed immediately, such as the sender’s name or their email address at work/school/organization etc. The header block can include any contact information based on organization policies.

Headers are important tools to utilize in triaging, inquiring deeper, and contextualizing new emails. Explore contact cards, find extension numbers, and determine exactly who you’re dealing with from within the header of any email.

If you’re receiving an email that needs a response, ensure you familiarize yourself with the audience at hand. Realize which roles, departments, and interests are involved in the emails you receive.

Thread History

Ensure you understand at which point in the email’s chain you were introduced to it. Find the original email, and educate yourself up from there. When CC-ing additional people to email threads, ensure to bring attention to any relevant information contained in past emails of the same thread.

When triaging emails, check all the details in the email’s header. Scroll down to see if there are any additional links or attachments which may be relevant. Ensure you understand any history to the email thread; you should know information like who initiated a request, who the primary owners of a potential resolution are, and what timelines you’re working with.

Know Which Type of Email You Are Sending

Knowing the difference between an actionable email and one which focuses on gathering information is a prerequisite to writing one effectively. An actionable email is one which focuses on delegating tasks or setting expectations. A to-do list, agenda, schedule, meeting invite, or email which sets a workflow expectation are all examples of an actionable email.

An informative email is one which focuses on asking / answering questions to better educate those reading about something. An informative email may contain the answers to the questions you’ve asked so you can share better information with colleagues or superiors.

An email clarifying misunderstandings or inquiring about non-critical information is an example of an informative email.

Actionable emails are more likely to be responded to in a timely manner than informative ones since clearer expectations are set, actionable items are presented, and next steps are clear. Informative email chains tend to more commonly fizzle out and become unattended to.

Clarity Is Your Assistant

Clarity is defined by reducing the amount and complexity of text required to communicate any single idea. The point of an email should be clearly communicated in the subject line. If needed, further explicit direction can be provided in the body of the email.

Don’t hesitate being to the point and direct when relaying instructions or to-do lists. Be clear in what you’re requesting. If certain recipients are required to take action before a wider group can move forward, be sure that the email clearly lays out the requirements for those select recipients to act on.

An email is aided in clarity when it is written in short sentence formats, there is adequate spacing between separate points / trains of thought, and the requested next steps aren’t shied away from or minimized.

Utilize Text Formatting and Embedded Links

Emails with an organized text format are easier to navigate and understand. When you need to communicate a message that is complex, utilize bolding of specific information, italics, and the underline function. Play with font sizes for titled sections, and highlight areas of importance.

When sharing links which provide further context on a matter, ensure they are clickable links within the body of the email by testing them yourself. Get to know how hyperlinking functions work in the email client you’re using to embed links directly into words within the body of an email rather than pasting links in full.

Respect People’s Attention and Remember Email Fatigue

If you know the CC field in a thread to be over-encompassing, don’t hesitate to slim it. Showing a respect for people’s time and attention demands will encourage those who the email is actually for to action it in a timely manner.

When asking questions within an email, always include the name(s) (and perhaps highlight it) of any people who may be able to assist you with your inquiry rather than sending one generally to a group.

When sharing information, ensure that everyone who may have an interest / stake in it will see it. When including attachments, ensure they are explained in the body of the email, and clear action items are listed in relation to the attachments.

Have a Threshold of When the Topic Needs a Call or a Meeting

There are not many habits worse than getting nowhere with an email thread and continuing to milk it for what it’s worth. Be conscious of the information you’re looking for, and how it is going to be actioned. If a meeting or a phone call will improve your understanding of the issue, look to set one up.

Email is a good mechanism for communicating thoughts on paper and achieving collaborative results quickly. However, sometimes it’s not appropriate or convenient to write out complicated ideas on screen instead of having a meeting.

Take note of the time spent on an email thread, and if it is not resulting in clear progress or actionable information. Make a decision to move to a better medium to further the conversation earlier rather than later.

Show Initiative in Tying All Loose Ends

Email threads can get out of control, lead to nowhere, and simmer off without anything substantial resulting from them. It’s important to tie loose ends which require direct action by those involved in email threads.

Don’t hesitate to loop back around to emails that have fizzled out. It shows that you’re tracking requests and progress, and that you’re dedicated to resolving appropriately prioritized topic(s) at hand.

If things were left in your ball court to action, ensure you don’t require a reminder from others to attend back to a specific email thread. Show initiative and hold yourself accountable by beating anyone planning to remind you of a fizzled email thread to the punch.

Express Written Statements of Gratitude

An email’s biggest downfall is a numbed ability to relay context, emotion, and empathy. The only way to ensure your sense of empathy and understanding is relayed through emails is to put it down in writing. Thank people for their attention and time even when the things you ask of them are trivial.

The number of opportunities to reinforce the relationship between yourself and others through emails is bound by your ability to express gratitude in writing. Thereby don’t hesitate to thank people for their time and support in your emails. Though you may feel that your gratitude is conveyed, it never hurts to be a little bit more polite so that your kindness does not get lost in translation.

Points to Remember

  • Be direct and to the point
  • Write short sentences or bullet points for instructions
  • Wording should be clear; vocabulary should be kept simple
  • Try not to use jargon or acronyms that are not understood by all recipients
  • Use linking words such as “and” and “but” to keep related thoughts together but avoid merging unrelated tangents
  • Use but don’t overuse text formatting such as italicization, bolding, underlining, etc.
  • Utilize the CC field responsibly, only include people with direct interest in the topic at hand
  • Tie up loose ends and show initiative in looping back on older emails
  • Express gratitude for the attention and effort of others in your work

Email is an effective tool for communication, and can be helpful in building understanding between people who may not otherwise interact on a direct basis. Email will continue to be an essential part of your business communication repertoire, which is why it’s important to remain conscious of the pitfalls associated with making mistakes when using it.

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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.