Email is such an integral part of our day to day lives that you probably haven’t stopped to think about your email writing skills for a long time. But bearing in mind how many emails we read and write each week whether we’re communicating with students, parents or colleagues it’s worth taking just five minutes to brush up on your email writing skills to ensure that the recipient actually wants to follow through on whatever it might be that you’re asking of them.
There are a few basic rules you can follow to ensure that your emails are received positively and that you get the response you want:
Keep on top of your own inbox
Your emails are far more likely to be well received if you’re a good correspondent yourself. If you’ve got hundreds of unanswered emails sitting in your inbox, you shouldn’t be surprised if people are in no hurry to respond or act on your emails as they probably don’t think you’ll read their response in any case. This is a classic case of ‘do as you would be done by’.
Don’t waste people’s time with spam
We all know certain people who seem to spend their time forwarding on ‘hilarious’ pictures of cats or the latest long-winded joke doing the circuits. Then there are people who write or forward emails which are just for information – you’re not expected to do anything, just to read. And frankly when you’ve got two dozen other emails to deal with, the ‘FYI only’ type won’t find themselves high up on your priority list. Inevitably we tend to screen out emails from both these types of senders and are far less likely to respond appropriately if they do happen to send us an email that requires action.
Don’t become one of these invisible senders. Get out of the habit of mass-forwarding junk – if it’s really funny send it to a handful of chosen friends. And if your role requires you to impart a lot of ‘FYI only’ emails be sure only to send them to people to whom they are really relevant and think about whether this information can be shared better in a different way e.g. via your website or in a weekly summary. Being a responsible sender will make your emails be better received.
Only mark it urgent if it’s urgent
This is a pet hate of mine… use that little exclamation mark sparingly. Use it too often and you’ll be treated like the boy who cried wolf and none of your emails will be treated as urgent.
Use the subject line well
Of all the points I’ll make today, this is the most important. A huge percentage of emails are sent with no subject line at all, with a vague subject line or with a completely incorrect subject line as a result of replying to an email about another topic. Don’t fall into this trap.
Write a succinct subject line that makes it completely clear what your email is about: ‘Notes for PE department meeting on 16/06’ or ‘Ideas to address spelling issues in class 2J’ or ‘Important information about Amy Jones, class 3C’.
The purpose of this is two fold. Firstly it makes the purpose of your email completely clear to the reader immediately and will also mean they can prioritise reading it over other unread mail if appropriate. Secondly, it will mean that the reader can easily find your email again if they need to come back to it.
Use new emails for new points
This might sound silly but I’ve found it really useful in ensuring that people do all the things I’m asking of them. Instead of asking someone to do three or four things in one email put each request in a new email (with a clear heading so it can be found again of course!) This will prevent people from thinking they have dealt with your entire email when they’ve only dealt with one or two points. Instead they will know they’ve responded to emails 1 and 3 but that 2 and 4 are still outstanding. Even if you’re sceptical, please try it – I think you’ll find it’s helpful.
Keep it simple and write with your audience in mind
Whether you’re writing to a pupil, parent, or colleague you’ll never get prizes for use of complicated language or writing war and peace. Try and keep your language and your points simple. The briefer, more straight forward and more self-explanatory your emails, the more likely you are to receive a positive response.
Make it clear what you’re expecting the recipient to do
Make it crystal clear what the recipient needs to do in response to your email –and reiterate this at the end of the email if it’s more than a few lines long. If the email is addressed to more than one person, a summary at the end with each person’s name and suggested actions can prove very helpful.
Use sub-headings and bullet points
Not many people make use of formatting in emails but it can make a real difference to the reader just as it can anywhere else. Sub-headings can help your reader quickly get an idea about what is relevant and skip to the most important points – much as you have probably done with this blog post. If you struggle with your email editor, you can always cut and paste from Word.
Adding multiple recipients doesn’t increase the likelihood of a response
Many people fall into the trap of thinking that addressing their email to half a dozen people will make it more likely that someone will respond. Actually the opposite is true. Multiple recipients will often fall into the trap of assuming someone else on the distribution list will do what is required. If you need to send an email to multiple people, decide exactly who you want to do what and address them directly within the email.
Sometimes email is not the best format
Don’t forget that an email isn’t always the answer. Sometimes your message will be better communicated face to face or on the phone. Especially if you need to share negative feedback.
I hope these ideas are helpful – please share your own ideas by leaving a comment