Top 5 Best Practices for Writing Effective E-mail

Last Updated Nov 19, 2009 11:06 AM EST

Writing e-mail isn't exactly Shakespeare, but there's an art to it nonetheless. Indeed, if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd probably have committed the occasional e-mail faux pas, like YELLING AT Christopher Marlowe or sending typos by forgetting the U in colour.

Read on for the top 5 e-mail dos and the top 5 e-mail don'ts.


Top 5 Dos
5. Put important information in bold, so it's easier to see. Likewise, if you've addressed an e-mail to several people and there's an action for a certain person, bold his or her name when you address the issue. Use bold sparingly, though.

4. If action is required, say so at the start of the e-mail. Don't tell a long story with the requested action at the bottom. This is called the BLUF method, but I also tend to call it "getting to the verb."

3. Keep your signature short and professional. Lose the pithy quote and just include your title and phone number.

2. Keep the subject line relevant. If the topic changes over the course of a long thread, update the subject so it's relevant.

1. Proof your e-mail before you send it. And make sure your spell checker is running.

Top 5 Don'ts
5. Don't ever type anything in ALL CAPS, even to get someone's attention. If you need to catch someone's eye with something important, put it in bold.

4. Don't include your entire team or your boss on every e-mail you send. Be selective.

3. Don't send large attachments unless absolutely necessary, especially to a mailing list or distribution list. If possible, upload your files to the cloud, such as DropBox or MemoPal and provide a link.

2. Don't send e-mail when you're emotional. If you're responding to someone that has made you angry, save the message in your drafts folder until you can proof-read it more objectively, and then send the e-mail.

1. Don't try to be funny, especially to a mixed audience. The chances of being misunderstood are astronomical.

Here are some more ways to write better e-mail and spend less time in your inbox:

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