Writing effective emails (article)

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Are your emails getting through?

If you are concerned about the effectiveness of your emails (e-mails), this free article by Derek Stockley may help. The key essentials for email success are discussed.

Are your emails getting through?

People often comment to me on the volume of email that they have to 'process'. The sheer volume can be overwhelming.

In this environment, getting your message through can be challenging.

A customer service officer recently commented on bad language being stopped by email filtering software. If you are angry, and you vent your frustration in an email using bad language, your anger will not be communicated - the message will not get through.

Spam filters can also stop emails that have too many 'trigger' words. These words are commonly used by spammers e.g. 'free'. Spammers try to get round them by using 'fre*' and the like.

Are your emails being opened?

Even if your email makes it to the 'in-tray', the next hurdle is to have it opened. You reduce your chances if the 'from' details and the email title look like spam.

Like most people, I scan the 'header' detail in the in-tray listing, so that I can open the important and/or urgent emails first. Later, I go through and process all the emails received. I have often been surprised by the contents of an email message, because I skipped over it on my initial scan of the in-tray.

I remember specifically an email from Google. The 'from' detail was a first name only. The title was generic. It looked like spam on my first scan.

Many spam emails include the word 'query' in their header. I have to be careful, because potential clients also use 'query' as a header. I have to check to see it is a genuine enquiry. It would be better if the heading was more specific, for example 'performance management training query'.

Are your emails read properly?

Time is in short supply for many people. As it is for visitors to a web page, sometimes you only have a few seconds to gain the reader’s attention.

Your message has to be of interest and relevance to the reader.

The following tips may help:

  • Writing it like a web page can be useful. Successful web pages often mimic newspaper or magazine articles. They start with a summary and key points. These are then expanded upon as the article progresses. This style quickly informs the reader what the message is about. If it is relevant, the content should encourage the reader to read on.

  • Keep the email short. Avoid flowery language. Use short sentences. Keep paragraphs brief. Busy people often 'scan' the page - skimming over the key points. Keep this in mind.

  • If it is appropriate, structure the email in point form. It separates the key points.

  • Use language that is appropriate. Unless it is a very personal email, avoid abbreviations such as 'plse' for 'please'. Abbreviations used on mobile (cell) phones for SMS message purposes are often not appropriate for business or personal emails.

  • Exercise care when using rich text (HTML) format. Using a nice color like grey* may look good on your screen, but may be hard to see on other screens. 'Dial up' users often have empty graphic boxes where your carefully designed graphic should be, particularly if they are reading 'off-line'. Many email filters block images for virus protection. An email full of images that are blocked can be quickly deleted. Consider 'embedding' the graphic in the email.

  • Like any communication medium, monitor your effectiveness. If people are 'missing the point', the problem may be of your making.


Think carefully about your email communications. Consider your approach. Use an appropriate structure. Consider the reader. Write an effective heading.

Personal reflection

Thinking about the emails you receive:

  • Which email structures and formats appeal to you?

  • Which email style do you relate to? Why? Is this style appropriate for you in your industry?

  • Do you need to change your style? If you do, what changes do you need to make?

Related article

Email is cited as an example of how time pressures affect the way people work. See: Keeping up - our modern time impatience - the pace of life is becoming faster, some would say too fast. Specific techniques are discussed, particularly email management solutions.

* In Australia, the spelling for 'gray' is 'grey'.

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