Think about what draws you to a book, news article or webpage. Very often it’s the title or headline that grabs our attention and entices us to read more. Similarly, with business emails if you use a subject line that indicates why you are writing and that engages your reader your email is far more likely to be read sooner and, if required, acted upon. A meaningful subject line helps your reader to identify your topic, prioritise your email and find it quickly again at a later stage. A subject line that engages your reader will make it stand out; the reader will be more likely to read your email sooner and remember what it was about.
© istockphoto.com/ Dmitriy Shironosov
Following the tips below should help you use your subject line to maximum effect:
- Never leave the subject line blank
- Make your subject line specific using company or product names if appropriate
- Give particular consideration to the first word in your subject line as this will determine how easy your email is to search for at a later stage
- Help your reader to prioritise your email: only use the word urgent if it really is but “Action required” or “FYI only” can be helpful indicators in the subject line
- If you write regular emails about a similar subject to the same regular contacts try to use a consistent format in your subject line
- If you change the topic of your email but continue with an existing thread then change the subject line accordingly
- Make it concise – it’s ok in your subject line to miss out articles, prepositions, etc.
- Avoid using all capitals as your subject line – it’s important to grab attention but not to shout at your reader!
It is often the little things that can make all the difference when we communicate and the three or four words we choose for our subject line can help our reader to navigate their inbox. You can find a myriad of online resources and reference books to help you appreciate the intricacies of email correspondence or you can attend an email writing course and learn practical tips to improve your email etiquette.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2011
We use email as a quick and immediate form of communication and often neglect the rules of structure that we would apply to a more formal professional document. How we structure and format our professional emails has a real impact on our audience and can make our messages much more readable and digestible for the recipient.
© istockphoto.com/ Lajos Repasi
A well laid out and structured email is much easier to follow and is more likely to have the desired effect than a message that is a stream of text with no white space or clarity of structure. Following the simple tips below will help you to improve the structure of your emails making them more readable and manageable for your audience.
1. Use paragraphs in the same way you would in any other professional document and make sure you have a clear beginning, middle and end with a line space between each paragraph. Ideally each paragraph should have two or three sentences.
2. Open and close your emails just as you would a professional letter. You can be slightly less formal but still need to address your reader and sign off at the end – a simple “Hi” and “Thanks” will produce a remarkable response from the recipient of your email.
3. If your message is longer than a couple of lines use headings to add clarity. Avoid using all capitals or underlining but use bold to make your heading stand out. Questions often make good headings, particularly if you are giving instructions. What do I need to do next? or What does this mean for me?
4. If you are listing documents or instructions bullet points will improve the clarity of your message and make it easier for your reader to digest. Use simple bullet points and make sure you are consistent with their format
5. Use attachments for detailed information rather than making your email any longer than a page. Your recipients can then read the key information but come back to read the details in the attachment at a later stage if they need to.
Websites have lots of useful information on how to structure your emails correctly. Organisations also run business email writing coursesfor their employees as they seek to ensure that their employees protect the brand.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010
A crucial element of professional email etiquette and an essential means of showing courtesy to your reader is keeping your messages concise and to the point. We all receive emails that ramble on, giving us more information than we need but often leaving us unsure of the actual message we need to digest and what the sender wants us to do. Writing concisely will not only save your reader time but will also save you time as you will be less likely to need to chase, clarify or follow up on your original email. Concise emails are read more quickly, actioned appropriately and appreciated by the recipient. Be warned – you risk irritating your reader by sending unnecessarily long and complicated emails.
© istockphoto.com/ Yuri Arcurs
Below are some simple tips to help you to keep your emails short and to the point.
- Use the active rather than passive voice. The CEO will attend the presentation is better than The meeting will be attended by the CEO.
- Remember that imperatives are ok. Please return this form by Friday close of business is better than I would appreciate if you could return this form to me by….
- Use concrete examples rather than complicated explanations
- Use shorter words where possible, e.g. use rather than utilisation, me rather than myself
- Use one word rather than groups of words, now instead of at this point in time, quickly instead of with the minimum of delay, daily not on a daily basis and so on
- Use too many long sentences – if you run out of breath when reading a sentence out loud it is probably too long!
- Repeat your ideas
- Give unnecessary back story – keep to the point
- Use redundant words, e.g. advance warning, large in size
Being aware of the need for concise writing and editing your emails to remove redundancy are important steps towards more professional email writing. Many organisations run business writing skills courses to enable employees to improve their business email etiquette, saving time for the organisation and individual employees alike through more effective and efficient email communication.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010