Basic rules for email

Please forgive a small rant, but someone needs to publish this after getting yet another group email with no subject, a meaningless message, and an attachment.  

There are some very basic rules about email in this world. I'm often surprised (and annoyed) that people don't know them. So, for the purpose of general goodness, here are some basic rules to use when thinking about creating / sending email messages.

  • Don't send it at all. Learn from Luis. Walk down the hall, pick up the phone, use your internal / external social media tools.  One of my favorite rules about email is, "The more you send, the more you get.  So send less, to get less."
Okay, so that doesn't always work.  Try some of these strategies to reduce the effort your recipients have to go through to figure out what is going on.
  • Don't send it to everyone.  Just to the person or people who need it.  If it is going to a large group, try using your groupware instead to post the message (particularly if there are attachments or other large content).
  • Craft a relevant subject line.  Don't leave it blank, and don't use generic things like "Hello." Not everyone will recognize your email address or name, so make it clear what the message is, so that people know what to do with it.
  • Early calls to action. Put key requests and information into the first few sentences, even in long messages. I know that I tend to write long messages: I remind myself to put the key request in the first sentence or two.
  • Keep it short. Classic problem for me. Keep the message brief. If it is long, maybe email is the wrong medium?
  • Put all the relevant text directly into the email. As above, put the key info in the first sentence or two.  Don't send messages that say "open the attachment" or "visit this website" for people to see anything useful. (The likelihood that the full message will be read drops significantly when there is an attachment or required link to visit.  Even worse if it is behind a password / login wall.) This particularly applies if you are sending regular updates or information, such as "your bill is available." Just give me the updates, or tell me how much you are charging me and when it is due.  
  • Eschew attachments. If at all possible, just put the text right into the body of the email. (Yes, I just repeated myself. I find this particularly important.) There are still plenty of companies that severely limit the size of people's email boxes, and attachments sent to hundreds of people are a big reason these policies get put into place.
  • Put attachments online. If attachments are required, put them on your groupware web or post them to your website.  That way if people are interested because you've put all the relevant information directly in the email, they can click through to the website AND the attachments don't clog up their inboxes.  
    • Oh, and vendors, please fix your offerings to make it BLINDINGLY easy to post an attachment and then email the link from Outlook, Notes, Gmail, and other common email platforms.
  • Move the conversation online. Particularly, if you expect people to comment on or discuss a given topic (i.e. your awesome presentation), move it to an online space where everyone can see the whole conversation and not lose the thread due to unclear instructions as to whether it is supposed to be reply or reply-all.
  • Refer people back to archived conversations. Another great reason to move things online (out of email), is that the archived conversations can be useful reference material later on when the same topic arises or when new people join the team / organization.  It's also a great time-saver - you can start the discussion at a higher plane than before.
  • Try it online again. Sometimes it takes a while for people to get used to the online tools that are available. Be an advocate and try again. And again. Make it useful for yourself and use that fact to pull others to try it out. 

3 Comment(s)

Thank you, Jack. A nice, concise list. I see you're a fan of The Hamster Revolution and/or the Email Charter. Me too!! Keep spreading the good word.
Patrick

Jack Vinson Author Profile Page said:

Another another take on the topic, narrowed down to 5 rules that starts the same as mind. http://www.ripariandata.com/blog/subtract-it-by-like-20-5-approaches-to-dealing-with-email-overload/

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