Writing emails doesn't have to be as frustrating as fighting traffic.

Which drivers most deserve to have their cars pelted with paintballs? Illustration by Hollister Creative designer Max Walter.

Every morning when you check your inbox, emails come roaring in like cars on a highway ramp, jockeying to grab your attention in rush hour traffic. Your first impulse is to clear the road by deleting as many as possible. So you start with the most annoying types, the ones that – if they were cars – you would fantasize about pelting with paintballs.

Like classic traffic jerks, these emails are easily spotted:

  • The speeding sports car driver. He sent the rushed email containing only half the information you requested.
  • The distracted teenage driver.She sent the email that is full of friend-texting lingo, like THX instead of “thanks.”
  • The driver who doesn’t use turn signals.He sent the email that lacks an informative subject line, salutation, closing or identifying signature.
  • The weaving driver who causes accidents.She sent a pile-up of typos and auto-generated word substitutions that make no sense.

Let’s assume you are a courteous email driver, not a nemesis. But even you might benefit from a one-minute Driver’s Ed course on writing emails that recipients will fully read and respond to. So strap on your seatbelt and start your engine! Here we go:

DO use the subject line as a navigation sign. State the topic of the email clearly so the recipient knows what to expect if he/she clicks to open. “Monday?” is vague and smells like clickbait. Go with: “Question about Monday meeting with Joan.” Recipients are quicker to open if they sense your email can be dealt with quickly.

DO place directional signs in your text. State the most important thing first. Or, if your email addresses more than one thing, state that: “Drew, here are updates on the three initiatives you asked about.” If you are making a request, state politely and clearly what you need, from whom and by when. Include a specific call to action: “Chris, please reply all with a production timeline and name of person assigned to each deliverable.” If you are following up, remind the reader about your previous communication.

DON’T speed past the exit and regret it. As you get ready to send the email, pull into the right lane, slow down, re-read what you wrote and double-check that you have attached any reference documents. It is embarrassing and time-consuming to find you must turn around and go back to the reader with ‘Sorry, meant to say…” or “Oops, forgot the attachment.”

Need help with writing or editing content for your website, blog, email newsletter or brochure? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].

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