Skip to main content

6 ways to write an email message that works

Published on: Jun 9, 2016

Email messages have become the primary communication tool in business settings. But writing an efficient work-related message is easier said than done.

Work email is a waste 17% of the time, according to a survey of about 2,200 CFOs in the US. Being copied on irrelevant messages (27%), receiving messages that could be better delivered another way (19%), and long, rambling messages (14%) are major culprits, according to the survey, which was conducted by financial staffing firm Robert Half.

“People don’t learn email etiquette,” said Ai Ling Lee, director of permanent placement services at Robert Half. “Time is important and efficiency is the most important. A lot of it is in the preparation, writing, reading, and storage.”

Millennials, who text or use social media a lot in their social and personal life, are particularly prone to overlooking the fact that work email messages are formal documents, Lee said.

Not every message needs to be communicated in an email, she added. Sometimes it’s quicker to walk over to a colleague and talk face-to-face or answer a question over the phone.

To ensure your emails work rather than waste time, Robert Half offers these tips:

  1. Limit whom you copy. Don’t waste your time or the time of recipients who don’t need to read the email message. Copy people who are essential, need to review the message, or act on it. Use “Reply All” as a last resort.
  2. Be brief. Efficiency and brevity should drive email messaging. Keep it under two paragraphs as often as possible. Longer emails take too long to digest, and you could lose your audience.
  3. Be concise. Summarise the issue and what is needed at the top and provide any additional information as background. Nobody likes to read through a long email thread to find out what the sender wants and why you are copied.
  4. Think before you reply. Resist the urge to respond immediately, especially if it’s a request that may resolve itself without your input. Consider email-free Fridays for internal communication.
  5. Make the subject line count. Use a subject line that is direct and to the point. Let recipients know immediately what action is required so they get the gist and prioritise their responses accordingly.
  6. Watch your tone. Emails should be written with the professionalism due an official record. Check spelling and grammar, and read it aloud to yourself before you click send. A few extra minutes give you a chance to fine-tune the message’s content and tone.

This article originally appeared in CGMA Magazine "6 ways to write an email message that works"