21 Dos and Don’ts to Improve Your Email

Better Email

Email.

Just the word makes many people shiver.

Email has become a scourge in many workplaces.

Too many emails flooding your inbox, poorly written notes, and senseless Reply-All copies.

The good news is that email can be a productive tool if you follow some common sense tactics.

Bad Email or Bad Behavior?

Email isn’t bad… it’s just written that way.

Bad email behavior is commonplace in many companies.

Long unreadable emails. Red fonts. Silly signatures. Unwieldy attachments that clog your inbox.

It seems silly, and it really is inexcusable.

Yet, when were you or anyone at your company taught how to write better emails?

Chances are, there aren’t any email standards or training at your company.

Instead, everyone is left to work in a free-for-all of email chaos.

Email Dos and Don’ts

Despite its reputation, email isn’t all bad. In fact, it can be a very productive tool when used correctly.

The following tips can help you write better emails, get better responses, and create less frustration with  your co-workers.

21 Dos and Don’ts to Improve Your Email Communication:

  1. Do Keep Your Emails Short – Effective emails shouldn’t be more than a few lines long. Use 5 lines as a good guideline. If you find yourself writing an essay, it should probably be a separate document or report.
  2. Don’t Reply-All to say Thanks to 1 Person – If you want to thank 1 person, you don’t need to copy 33 other people on the email.
  3. Don’t Use BCC – There is no real use for the BCC field. Really, there isn’t. Either publicly copy someone on email or don’t include them.
  4. Do Write your Emails BackwardsTo improve responses to your emails, lead with the question or call-to-action as the first line in your email.
  5. Don’t Copy the Entire Universe – Copying more people won’t get your message read more. In fact, it actually becomes counter-productive because if you are always copying extra people, they will stop reading your emails in general.
  6. Don’t Knock Twice – Don’t email someone and then walk down the hall and say, “I just sent you an email.” Pick one channel of communication.
  7. Don’t Play Email Ping-Pong – Avoid the back-and-forth email conversation. If you have to reply more than twice, you should probably pick up the phone and call the individual. Email is not a good medium for conversations.
  8. Don’t Use Silly Fonts or Colors – Writing your message in fancy fonts just makes it unreadable. Colored fonts are just as bad. Keep it simple.
  9. DON’T USE ALL CAPS – NO ONE WANTS TO BE YELLED AT IN ALL CAPS. DON’T WRITE YOUR EMAILS IN ALL CAPS.
  10. Do Lose the Signature – You don’t need a long and drawn out signature with images, social share icons, and your favorite quote. If you must have one, keep it simply your contact info and nothing more.
  11. Don’t Send Criticism via Email – Praising via email is good. (Although in person is better.) However, sending negative information can easily be mis-interpreted by the recipient. Even constructive comments can be misunderstood as flame mail.
  12. Don’t Broadcast Your Location – No one needs to know where you are writing your email from. You don’t look cool by having “Sent from my Smartphone” or sent from my iPad. Remove these silly messages from your emails.
  13. Don’t Send Time Sensitive Info – Email is the new snail mail. It is not instantaneous. Don’t expect immediate responses to your messages. In fact, you should give recipients at least a day to address your message. If you need a quicker answer, use a quicker communication method. (Text, phone, etc.)
  14. Don’t Shuffle Your Work – Email has become the modern version of “paper pushing.” Don’t simply forward your work to others via email.
  15. Don’t Copy Yourself on Messages – You get enough email. Seriously. You don’t need to copy yourself on messages. Ever.
  16. Do Archive Those Messages – The average email user has thousands of emails rotting in their inbox. These only clutter your email and impede your productivity. Get older messages out of your inbox and into an archive.
  17. But, Don’t File Them – The average email user has 37 folders they try to sort their email into when filing. This is a waste of time and effort. Archive your email into a common folder and in the off case you need to find a message again, Google-search your email.
  18. Don’t Send Large Attachments – Blasting someone with an inbox (and mobile) crushing attachment isn’t cool. If you are sending large documents or video, send a link for download instead of the actual file.
  19. Do Work Your Email from the Top – Process your email inbox starting with the newest message. This may seem counter-intuitive, but you can save yourself much time and effort. Often, newer messages will have already addressed the inquiries of older messages.
  20. Do Use Other Communication Channels – Don’t get stuck in an email only communication world. Use other methods such as text messages, phone, and even in person. (Many newer technologies like Slack can replace your team email entirely.)
  21. Don’t (Ever) Send Flame Mail – Never ever send an email in anger. Hit “Delete” instead of “Send.” Before you send that Flame Mail, ask yourself, “Would I be embarrassed if this message was made public?” It just might… you never know.

Write Better Emails

Email doesn’t have to be bad.

Use these 21 tips and guidelines to improve your emails.

Not only will you write more effective emails, but your co-workers will thank you. (But, hopefully not with a “Reply-All.”)

Question: What bad emails do you see in your workplace? What is you best email tip to share? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  • Jose Luis

    I do agree with mostra of the tipos, although number 17 is really counter productive, you should put in place “5S” system.

    • I often see people spend an extravagant amount of time filing emails they will never need again. 🙂

  • kazed

    22 : Do NOT change the object of a mail when you answer it…. Please….

    • Agreed… love when people create multiple streams of the same topic. Just adds to the confusion. Good tip.

  • Hey Craig, there’s actually an app which keeps us from sending flame email by filing it as send later (so that we can retrieve it when we cool down).
    Also, we have started using slack after you recommended it. It’s very useful indeed.

    • Ooh… that would be nice… and anti-flame mail filter… on out-going emails. 🙂

  • So “Sent from my 128GB Gold iPad Air 2” would be in bad taste?

  • Good list of helpful items.
    I would also suggest you add: “Set several, defined times each day to perform a full review of your Inbox”. This is one of the best ways to improve your personal e-mail productivity and reduce e-mail processing frustration. It takes a LOT of self-discipline, but the benefits are huge.
    Regards, Dr. Michael Einstein
    http://www.EmailOverloadSolutions.com

  • Principal Jake

    There is a use case for the BCC. If you’re sending an email to a group of people and you don’t want to broadcast that list of people (for privacy reasons) you can use the BCC and each recipient will only see themselves in the to list. I do agree that using it in a passive aggressive way is not effective.

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