How can we help those who receive our emails to actually read them and gain from the information we are sending? With the below tips, you can increase the chances of your email getting read and the reader responding for more effective collaboration.
Tip 1 – Have a Call to Action in the Subject Line
Have a subject line that will grab the readers attention. It is best to have it as one word, at the most two. It could be something like:
- AWARENESS – for emails that are purely to inform the reader. An example is when you want to give your manager a heads up on an event that is happening in your project but you don’t need him/her to take any specific action. These are items that he/she needs to be aware of so that he/she doesn’t get caught not appearing “in the loop”
- QUESTION – or INQUIRY – for when you need the reader to answer a question.
- ACTION NEEDED – or ACTION REQUIRED – to let the reader up front that you need him/her to take some sort of action after reading the email.
- SIGN-OFF REQUESTED – as a variation on ACTION NEEDED but being very specific what type of action is being requested.
- FEEDBACK NEEDED – another variation on ACTION NEEDED.
- ISSUE – this can be a variation on AWARENESS and/or ACTION NEEDED, depending on the reader’s involvement needed. It is to call out there was an issue that occurred and the reader needs to be informed or the reader needs to take action related to the issue.
- RISK – this can be a variation on AWARENESS. When a risk is identified, sometimes there is action needed, but many times it is just to inform the reader. Risks can lead to Issues and a separate email would be sent if the Issue occurs.
Tip 2 – Make the Subject Line as Informative as Possible
The subject line, after the call to action, should be as informative as possible around the contents of the email. Build the it by answering the following:
- Is the email about a specific project? Put the project name in the subject line after the call to action.
- What is the main point of the email? If you had to put the main point on a billboard for a car speeding by, what would you write?
- Will a manager not deeply involved with the subject know, at a glance, what the email is about? Is there enough detail? You don’t want it so short that it is about the same information as no subject line.
Example subject lines using the first two tips:
- ISSUE: Alpha Project – bug found in main program in Production
- AWARENESS: Alpha Project – team found root cause of bug in main program
- SIGN-OFF REQUIRED: Alpha Project – bug fix tested and ready to go with approval
Tip 3 – Organize the body of the email
Remember, we all get a ton of emails and we want to help our readers notice, then read our emails. Being well organized increases our chances. For general emails (versus meeting minutes), try the following:
- Have a Summary – give a very high level summary of the subject matter of the email. Make this very brief, 3-5 sentences max. Give enough detail so the reader could read just the summary and still have a conversation with his/her manager on the topic.
- Then have the Details – after the summary, start a new section and put in the details. This is where you document to the level of detail that would allow the read to understand and help if necessary.
Tip 4 – Scannable Details
Expanding on the Details section of Tip 3 – organize the detail section so that a reader can scan them.
- Use bullet points or a numbering system so he/she can easily get what the details are, how many items there are, and which ones apply to the reader.
- Group like details together.
- Use white space to separate different details.
Tip 5 – Highlight Important Information and/or Call to Action
Within the body of the email, either in the Summary or the Details section, be sure to highlight any urgent items. Use this tip sparingly though otherwise it will garble your message. If you have color highlighting available, use that. Otherwise use Bold, CAPITALIZATION, or italicization to highlight.
A certified Coach with Coach Training Alliance, Sharon M. Ross’s corporate experience includes being a project manager in a major financial institution and successfully running multi-million dollar projects in a matrixed virtual global environment. She a MBA with a concentration in Management of Information Systems and a Bachelors of Science in business administration with a concentration in Marketing. For more tips on communication and leadership like us at https://www.facebook.com/builtbywarriors/.