Good e-mail etiquette

As most of us know, e-mail can be a powerful tool! If it is used correctly, it can even save you a lot of time and energy. So here some guidelines in writing good e-mails to improve your productivity.

Choose a good subject line.

When choosing a subject line, try to capture what the e-mail is about in less than 1 line of text, ie: “ProjectX: followup” or “Internal meeting notes 28 February”. Both examples let you easily see what the e-mail is about. This is a lot better than: “Please read this”.
When you’re e-mailing to someone who manages more than one client or project, try putting the name of the client or project first. This also helps with filtering e-mail by using rules.

Indicate if an action is needed.

Try to indicate if an e-mail needs action from the reader and put this in the subject line as well, ie: “FYI – Last nights soccer scores” or “Project X: Approval needed – change requests”.

Don’t abuse the ‘high importance’ flag

All too often you get an e-mail flagged as high-importance. 90% of the time, this is not needed. When a server is scheduled to going down, this is just a notification and it doens’t need high-importance. When a clients server crashes, now that’s high importance.
Try also use the low importance flag for informative or notificational e-mails.

Reverse the structure

E-mail is different from a memo or a functional analysis. Most of those documents start with an introduction, then fully explain the contents, followed by a summary. For e-mail, keep is short. Only write the major issues, use bullitpoints or when it has to be a long e-mail start with a summary. If an e-mail tends to become too long, write a separate document, attach it to the e-mail and write only a summary.

One subject only

When you need to discuss more than 1 issue which are not related to each other, don’t put them all in 1 e-mail. Write 2 separate e-mails with different subject lines so the e-mail can be easily found later on. This also goes for changing the subject in a communication, just leave the e-mail for what it is, and write a new one, with a new subject line.

Know its limitations

Some issues are just too complex to discuss by e-mail. They are prone to misunderstandings, to making the e-mail too long and uninteresting to read, or just require you to show certain interactions on screen.
So don’t forget phonecalls (Skype anyone?), instant messenger, desktop sharing, or even an in person encounter.

Hopefully some of my e-mail senders read this 😉

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