6 Rules for Outstanding Email Communication

Chrysta Bairre's picture

We rely on email communication more than ever these days to get our message across. It’s become both a blessing and bane. Are you really communicating what you intended?

We’ve all learned the hard way how easy miscommunication is with email. The subtleties of a face-to-face or even phone conversation tend to get lost when transmitted digitally. Things you think are being said quite clearly can be obscure to the reader.

That’s why it’s very important to master email as a communications tool. Email communication is about sharing information as well as building relationships, and your email communication style can make-or-break your reputation. The way you communicate with others not only communicates information contained in your email, it also contains information about you- who you are- your brand. Effective email communication shows others you are:

  • Professional
  • Knowledgeable
  • Experienced
  • Competent
  • Organized
  • Prepared
  • Trustworthy

I know you’ve got all these great qualities, and you want your email communication to show you’ve got them. This isn’t the point where I review the same tired email rules you’ve seen over and over again. You’ve heard it before, and no doubt you know all about spell checking, using “reply all” carefully and attaching documents. Let’s get to the good stuff:

1. Greetings and Salutations

Start your email with a proper greeting, including the intended recipient’s name, such as “Hi, Betty.” Doing so shows respect to the recipient, personalizes your email, and builds positive relationships.

It’s also helpful to get in the habit of addressing the recipient directly to avoid confusion when it is necessary to cc additional recipients.  Using a personalized greeting instantly tells anyone reading the email exactly who you are addressing. This may not seem important until you realize no one has replied because everyone on the send list thought someone else was handling it.

2. Get to the point

We’re all busy and most of us get more email than we really need. Be concise and get to the point of your email right away. The most important information in your email should come at the beginning of your message because, let’s be honest, most of us skim emails and may miss important information more if the email doesn’t seem all that important at the start.

And don’t forget: many people check email on their phones, where brevity is appreciated!

3. Make it count

Sometimes I get email that I read through several times and I’m not still sure if there’s action needed or what, exactly, the sender is trying to communicate.

If you are assigning action items or you’re summarizing important details use bullets and numbering to highlight key points, tasks or questions that require additional action. When glancing over your email the reader will have a better understanding of what they need to know, and what they need to do next.

4. Link it up

When sharing information in an email, include a link to referenced resources, policies, or websites. If the information you are sharing is important, make it simple and easy for recipients to take requested action, get more information, or share the information with others.

Think of it this way, if someone sent you an email raving about the funniest video they’ve ever seen without linking the video, would you go searching for the video or simply delete the email and move on with your day? I know what I’d do.

5. Mind the subject line

It’s very important to use a specific subject when composing your message. Avoid blank subject lines and vague subjects such as “FYI," “One more thing," “Our conversation," etc.

Instead of “tomorrow’s meeting” try something along the lines of “05/05/12 Budget Meeting." A descriptive subject line allows the recipient to quickly prioritize your message, as well as easily reference it again if needed.

6. Add value

When composing a new message or replying to email be mindful of adding value. Build a reputation as someone that has something valuable to offer! Consider your audience and only share information that will be useful to the recipients.

Email is a great communication tool when done right. When poor email etiquette abounds, the message often doesn’t get through and this can lead to misunderstandings, miscommunication and missed deadlines.

When composing an email, stop and think about ways to show the recipient you are professional, knowledgeable, experienced, competent, organized, prepared and trustworthy through the way you communicate. Do that, and you'll convert email from a potential pitfall into a bridge to real connections.

(Chrysta Bairre is a writer, speaker, work-life advocate, and professional development and employee engagement specialist. She publishes weekly articles on her blog, Live Love Work. Follow @livelovework to keep up with Chrysta on Twitter.)