10 Rules for Effective Business Emails

According to a recent study conducted by the Radicati Group, the average email user sends and receives about 110 emails aeffective email tips day – and they project that we’ll be up to 119 daily emails by 2014. Amazingly, most companies do not provide effective email training or guidelines for their employees. In many cases the training is simply a tutorial about how to access and use the corporate email system.

Not surprisingly, much staff time and effort is wasted on both ends of an email message.

And of course, time is money – to coin one of Benjamin Franklin’s more popular sayings.

By adopting the following 10 rules for effective business emails, you’ll not only save your company money, but also become a more valuable and respected employee:

1.  First and foremost – Do you even need to send an email?

  • Can your goal be accomplished in a more efficient or effective manner?
  • Is your message simply a humorous note, image or political rant?
  • Are you forwarding on a chain email?
  • Is your subject too complicated to explain in 5 sentences or less?

If you can answer “yes” to any of the above questions, you probably don’t need to send that email in the first place.

2.  Write effective subject lines.

Summarize your message in the subject line – clearly. Use sentence case for subject lines rather than ALL CAPS.

Bad Subject Line: MEETING

Better Subject Line: Meeting Confirmation

Best Subject Line: Confirming our meeting this Tuesday at 10:00 am. EOM*

*EOM lets the recipient know that he or she doesn't even have to open the email; all the information is in the subject line.

3.  Keep your emails short.

People only have so much time available, and your email isn’t usually their priority. Consider that most emails should be five sentences or less. Granted, there are exceptions – but all things considered, the five sentence rule is a good one to try to adhere to.

4.  Keep your emails focused.

If you have multiple points, number them – and include a statement that identifies how many points you’ll be making in the email. Not only does this make reading your email easier, but it also allows you the opportunity to prioritize those points as well.

5.  Keep your message readable.

  •  Use standard capitalization and spelling. I’m still amazed how many people still use all-caps (or no-caps). Remember – an email is a message from you. Consider how you want that message interpreted.
  • Skip lines between paragraphs.
  • Try not to have more than three sentences in a paragraph.
  • Avoid fancy fonts and colors. Personally I’m not a fan of using more than one font or any color besides black in a business email. As a rule of thumb, consider the purpose of the email and if a different font or color contributes to that purpose. If not, then I would recommend sticking with black text in a traditional font.

6.  Proofread.

Simply put – don’t skip this step. All of the above steps won’t make a lick of difference if your email contains typos and grammatical usage errors.

For an important email, ask a friend or co-worker to proofread before you send it.

7.  Specify the response or “Call to Action” that you want.

Do you need a reply, a phone call, a report…whatever it is, be sure to specifically ask for it. This will cut down on unnecessary follow-up emails and phone calls, as well as streamline your organizational effectiveness.

8.  Never reply to an old email to begin a correspondence about an entirely new topic.

Most people rely on folders, tags and the email search function to classify their emails. Not only is it confusing to begin a new conversation on an old chain, but your email stands a good chance of getting lost if you attach it to a previous series of communication.

9.  When using an auto responder, provide answers to FAQ’s.

Your correspondents – and supervisors – will certainly appreciate the effort on your end.

10.  Respond to emails promptly.

If you want to appear professional and courteous, make yourself available to your online correspondents. Even if your reply is, “Sorry, I’m too busy to address this now,” at least your correspondent won’t be waiting in vain for your reply.

For more valuable email best practices and tips, be sure to check out our Business Writing and Communication Strategies courses.

What email tips do you have? What are your pet peeves? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section!