If you are feeling swamped with emails, so are your manager, co-workers, and most importantly your subject matter experts and clients. Having a well-written, structured email makes a big difference. It is imperative (especially for project communication) to understand fundamental aspects of email writing to communicate in a clearer, better way, and keep your subject matter experts happy.
Make the Difference Between To and Cc
The purpose of email dictates the way recipients should be listed – in the To or the Cc field. When you are writing an email, you should ask yourself if your email is a call to action.
If this is the case, the main rule is to use the To field to address the people it concerns. It’s best to have only one recipient, but if several people need to be included in the thread, you should be very specific, so that there is no confusion about the task division. Personally, I avoid long distribution lists for tasks as it can be quite tricky. If you are interested in this topic, you can read more here.
For example, the following email may create confusion about the task division and the deadlines.
Using the CC field to include other persons and keep them informed of the ongoing activities or open points is always an option, but you should be careful when including management in this kind of emails. This can potentially create a certain pressure of “being observed” which is why it should be done only if it is highly necessary.
A good strategy is to have a very short distribution list (people who really need to collaborate on the subject), and then send the email to a longer distribution list with the “For Your Information” label.
Keep in mind that many people filter emails CC-ed to them, so don’t count on the fact that a person in CC will actually read the email.
On the other side, when a mail is just giving information to a group of persons, I usually prefer to have everybody on the To field.
Another approach, more formal, would be to have management addressed directly (To field), and the rest of the recipients indirectly (CC field). This depends on your company communication rules and personal style.
Subject Line – the Importance of Descriptive Titles
E-mail writing experts emphasise writing a subject line that clearly defines required action or response from its receiver. Especially in task-oriented emails, it should alert the reader that the content of an email contains an action item. Such subject lines can be categorised as “Action Subject Lines”. Apart from that, subject lines can fall into numerous other categories based on email content and its purpose such as greetings, reminders, follow-ups, encouragement, etc.
Brief subject lines are better. However, they should be as much descriptive as possible to give a brief idea about an email’s importance and urgency. Also, clear and descriptive subject line makes it easier and quicker for a receiver to search that specific email, in case he/she requires referring it again.
Break It Down
Breaking down content in sections makes it smoother for the receiver to extract the key information and intended message from the email. The content of an email should be clear enough to communicate effectively its purpose without creating any confusion in reader’s mind.
Summary: Summary acts as the core of an email. It briefly communicates expectations from its reader and encourages action.
Background: It acts as a body, which commonly includes key points in the format of a number or bullet points. However, bullet points or numbers should only be used if they fit the purpose. The background should include critical information in a more descriptive manner.
The conclusion: The last part of the email is a place where the core information can be repeated to remind the reader about the purpose of the email. It is a brief reminder of the expected actions and next steps. Also, it includes greetings and best wishes to the reader.
Following is an example of a well-written email with a sectional break-down.
In short, email is an excellent tool to provide information and advancement, yet when it comes to the decision, organisation, or even personal communication, the best approach to use the email would be only to resume and confirm what has been said on the verbal channel.
Similarly, when it comes to sharing and evolution of documents, the email should only be used to inform that there is a new document or a new version available. In doing so, we are keeping the flexibility of the mail while maintaining the quality of communication and the content.