Five Tips for Writing More Effective Emails

Erick McCollum | 16 May 2020

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Emails are an integral part of everyday communication, and they will be for years to come. However, with so many emails flying around, its easy for an email to be missed or shifted to the backlog of unread items. This is why it’s important to make an email easy to read, comprehend, and act upon.

Please see five tips below for writing more effective emails.

1. Include the purpose within the first two sentences.

When I say “purpose,” I mean the reason why the email is being sent. If the email is being sent to ask about some TPS Reports, then ask about the TPS reports within the first two sentences.

I would say to include the purpose in the first line. However, it is common to begin the email with a friendly greeting. For example, “I hope you had a great weekend.”

Including the purpose of the email as early as possible will help the reader to quickly understand any required action. If the purpose of the email is not mentioned until late in the email, then it is more likely that the reader will not remember it, or that they will stop reading before they get to it.

2. Break up large paragraphs.

This is an email, not an essay for a literature course (I promise I say that with the most positive of intentions). Try to break up paragraphs into separate sections where possible. Emails with large bodies of text are harder to read and comprehend quickly. If an email requires too much time and focus to be understood, then it is more likely to be forgotten, or worse, disregarded.

A good rule of mine is to break up any paragraphs that take up more than 3-5 sentences. It is important to use good judgment here. If possible, take a moment to step back mentally and re-read the paragraph. Does the paragraph seem too long, or cluttered? Is the paragraph difficult to follow?

If so, then think about breaking that paragraph up into two separate sections.

3. Use bullet points.

This is one of my personal favorites. Bullet points are an amazing way to organize thoughts. They are also a great way to enable the reader to easily understand important items.

Not only are bullet points effective, but they are very flexible. Bullet points can be used for lists, to-do items, focus points, and more. When writing any email, I would suggest to try and incorporate bullet points. It can be surprising how quickly they improve the readability of an email.

4. Use short sentences.

This is an important tip. Long, complex sentences can cause confusion and/or misunderstandings for the reader. Additionally, long sentences are like commas - it’s easy to over utilize them, but most times it is better to restrict their usage.

When writing an email, keep sentences simple. Try to limit sentences so that they only address one subject at a time. Limit the usage of commas in sentences as much as possible. Commas quickly extend the length of a sentence.

Similar to tip #2, take a moment to step back mentally and re-read the sentence. If it seems long, confusing, or difficult to follow, then it is probably best to break it up into multiple simpler sentences.

5. Use headings.

Headings and bullet points are like best friends. They go so well together. When used effectively, headings can organize an email so that even the fastest of readers can easily understand the highlights of the message.

I like to format any headings in bold and indent them, along with any associated bullet points, in the email body. However, I understand that formatting is subjective, and I won’t claim that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to format email headings and bullet points.

Example: Let’s put it all together.

So what does an effective email look like when each of the above tips are utilized?

I have included two sample emails below. These two sample emails are a simple “before and after.” In the first email, I have not made an effort to utilize the above tips. This first sample is not necessarily a bad email. However, in the second sample the effectiveness of the message has greatly improved by implementing the above-mentioned tips.

Sample #1 (before)


    Hello Engineer, 

    I hope that you had a great weekend. 
    I wanted to follow up with you after our team meeting last week, and see if I could ask you 
    for an update on the status of your TPS Reports? As a reminder, the following items should 
    be included with your report: cover sheet, testing steps/procedures, expected results, and 
    appendix.

    Please let me know if you have any questions. 



    Regards, 

    Manager

Sample #2 (after)


    Hello Engineer, 

    I hope that you had a great weekend. 
    When you get the chance, could you please provide an update on the status of your TPS Reports? 

    I wanted to follow up with you after our team meeting last week. As a reminder, the following 
    items should be included with your report:

        TPS Report Requirements
        - Cover sheet
        - Testing steps/procedures
        - Expected results
        - Appendix

    Please let me know if you have any questions. 



    Regards, 

    Manager