1. Make the effort to learn about the etiquette (these days known as “network etiquette”) involved in writing emails. There are plenty of good reference websites and books on the Internet that will tell you the basics. I know it may seem a bit worthwhile to put such a premium on social niceties when the internet is basically very informal. However, like it or not, many people take online etiquette very seriously. So if you are writing business emails, you have to assume that your recipient may be one of those …
2. Never send and preferably don’t even try to write an email if you are angry, upset, drunk, or not in full control. If you have a heated conversation with someone on the phone, you can sometimes sidestep things. But with emails, once you hit “send,” everything you’ve written is there, carved into tablets of stone, for as long as the recipient wants to look at it. The old adage of “count to ten” before answering couldn’t be more true here. Only send angry emails if you can handle, or don’t really care about, the recipient’s resulting feelings!
3. One thing you might not think about is that it can be helpful to carefully consider the time you send your emails. For starters, it’s always a good idea to avoid sending emails that coincide with the rush on Monday morning and the slumber on Friday afternoon. Also, I have occasionally found that emails sent to businesses over the weekend end up getting lost in cyberspace. And on a rather more subtle level, if your recipients see that you’re emailing on a Sunday morning or late night, they may feel like they might interrupt you for a business chat at the same time. Although you may think it’s great to impress a client who works all hours, your partner won’t when the same client calls you on the phone at midnight.
4. Since almost everyone at some point or another has been infected with a computer virus, it is understandable that people are wary of attachments. I never send attachments to anyone I don’t know very well, and I also never open attachments unless they are from people I know well. And then some contemporary viruses and worms clone themselves into genuine names and email addresses, so even an email claiming to be from someone you know could be infected. When in doubt, add text to the body of your email message or contact the recipient beforehand and make sure they are happy to receive it as an attachment.
5. Email layout is something few people pay attention to, especially if (like me) your system uses text only. However, even with simple text, a responsive layout can make everything more readable. Above all, you should avoid writing emails that span the entire screen. Those are very difficult to read and in order to see everything correctly as text, your reader may have to fiddle with changing fonts. The safest format to use is lines of no more than 65 characters. That fits, works everywhere, and makes email that much more pleasing to the eye.
6. Your subject line should focus on what’s in there for the reader to grab their attention. You will find that the best way to do this is to include some kind of benefit. For example, if you are writing an email about a project budget revised downward, instead of saying “Project X: revised costs” say “Project X: costs reduced by XX%”). If there is no genuine benefit to use, try to make it interesting and intriguing anyway. Also, avoid the words most hated by spam filters like “free”, “subscribe”, and so on.
7. Online writing needs to be concise and clear, in large part because the screen is a particularly hostile reading medium for most people’s eyes. If only for that reason, the KISS (Keep It Short & Simple) principle is useful. With emails, you need to get straight to the point and stick to it. Someone who receives dozens of emails a day doesn’t have time to read a lot of preambles. By stating your point concisely, you’ll have the best possible chance of avoiding the unworthy fate of being eliminated.
8. When it comes to writing style, here, more than with any other medium, it is very, very useful to write as people speak. Also, it will make your email more clear and concise if you omit all adjectives and adverbs except the essentials. Keep your sentences short and only include one main idea or thought per sentence. The paragraphs should not consist of more than 6 sentences maximum, less if possible. And if you list more than a couple of items, use bullets.
9. If you write business emails, make good use of the signature feature that follows your name. It is surprising how many people do not use this facility correctly; however, it is an excellent opportunity for you to express a few words of promotion. Because the email signature appears last, your recipients will likely not be irritated by it. In fact, as long as it contains useful contact information, it will look like a useful addition to your message. And even if your email is just text, you can still make it sound reasonably smart.