Apple has put a lot of effort into Mail, providing lots of features you can employ to get through your email more quickly. But one of the most effective ways to improve your email productivity has nothing to do with an email app. Instead, train yourself to write better email and you’ll cut down on a lot of unnecessary back-and-forth and confusion. Remember, email is not chat—you say things in an interactive conversation that could take days to untangle in an email thread. Here are some of the top ways to ensure that your email achieves your goals.
Everyone receives too much email, and as a result, most people scan email Subject lines and open only those messages that seem relevant. Good Subject lines should be direct and specific, and ideally have key words at the front to catch the recipient’s attention.
Bad: Finishing off reviews…
Good: Discuss performance reviews at lunch on Thursday at 12:30 PM?
Even if your recipient opens your message, if it rambles on, they will likely set it aside to deal with later, and later may never happen. Plus, if it includes multiple unrelated topics, replying to everything may seem overwhelming. And if they don’t know how to respond to even one point, the entire message may go unanswered.
When you start an email message, consider the most important point you want to convey and focus on that. Summarize ruthlessly, and if you find yourself wanting to write more and more, propose a phone call or meeting to discuss the topic instead.
Carry this advice over to your words too. Aim for short, understandable sentences. Whenever the thought changes, start a new paragraph. Short, single-topic paragraphs are easier to scan and understand, which is why newspaper reporters write the way they do.
As much as it’s important to stay concise, don’t leave out essential information. To check that your message is complete, evaluate it according to the journalistic formula of the Five Ws: does your message answer the questions of Who, What, When, Where, and Why?
In the example above about scheduling a lunch to discuss performance reviews, the message needs to make it clear who is invited to the lunch, what the topic of discussion will be, when and where it will take place, and why you’re setting up the meeting. Although the Subject and To lines already answer Who, What, and When, be sure to repeat those facts within the message.
If you’re having a bad day, it’s all too easy to be abrupt or even abrasive in email. Resist the temptation, since it will reduce the chance that the recipient will take your words to heart or reply as you wish.
Instead, imagine that you’re speaking to the person, and don’t say anything in email that you wouldn’t say to their face. You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Consider email a professional communication medium, even if you’re writing to your kid’s soccer league mailing list. Before sending, look over what you’ve written and fix errors in spelling (look for red underlines) and grammar (“it’s” should always be replaceable with “it is”). It never helps if your correspondents see you as barely literate.
Finally, never send an email message unless you know what you want it to achieve, and be clear about that goal when you close the message. If your recipient doesn’t understand what you want, getting to that result may require several additional messages. In our example about the lunch meeting, compare these alternatives:
Bad: Let me know what works for you.
Good: Can you join me for lunch on Thursday at 12:30 PM in the conference room so we can go over the performance reviews?”
And to follow our own advice, we hope you’ll keep these tips in mind while composing future email messages. That will reduce confusion and irritation on the part of your correspondents, and reduce your email load by eliminating unnecessary requests for clarification.