Writing effective emails
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Writing Effective Emails. George D. Darnell, PGK, PFN Ascension Council May 14, 2009. “10 common e-mail habits that waste time and cause problems”. Vague or nonexistent subject line. Changing the topic without changing the subject. Including multiple subjects in one note.

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Writing effective emails

Writing Effective Emails

George D. Darnell, PGK, PFN

Ascension Council

May 14, 2009

10 common e mail habits that waste time and cause problems
“10 common e-mail habits that waste time and cause problems”

  • Vague or nonexistent subject line.

  • Changing the topic without changing the subject.

  • Including multiple subjects in one note.

  • Sending before thinking.

10 habits contd
10 habits contd.

  • Inadvertent replying to all.

  • Omitting the context of a reply.

  • Shooting the messenger.

  • Misaddressed recipients.

  • Displaying addresses of recipients who are strangers to each other.

  • Replying vs. forwarding.


  • Addressing

  • Subject Line

  • Message Text

  • Signature Line

  • Attachments

  • Style

  • Confidentiality and Security

  • Managing Email

  • References

  • Discussion


  • Limit to who really needs to know.

  • Make it clear in text who has action and who is info addressee.

  • Use BCC to protect Email addresses unless everyone knows each other.

  • Watch Reply All.

Addressing contd
Addressing (contd.)

  • Use address book with mail groups & validate often.

    • Avoid typing addresses free hand; many addresses are similar; watch auto fill.

    • Send same message to multiple recipients by editing message as new or cutting and pasting.

Addressing contd1
Addressing (contd.)

  • Make sure forward does not embarrass sender.

    • Get permission if in doubt.

    • Never “diss” sender in forward or reply.

  • Fill in addresses last to avoid sending an incomplete Email by mistake.

Subject line
Subject Line

  • Headline (think newspaper).

  • Grab Attention.

  • Summarize message.

  • Make it easy for recipients to triage your Email and find it later.

  • Don’t “Reply All” to a message to grab addressees without changing subject.

Rate these subject lines
Rate These Subject Lines

  • Subject: Important! Read Immediately!!

  • Subject: Meeting

  • Subject: Follow-up About Meeting

  • Subject: Announcement

  • Subject: Do we need a larger room for Social meeting on May 14?

Message text
Message Text

  • Keep the message focused and readable.

  • Keep it short.

  • Use inverted pyramid (newspaper).

  • Break into paragraphs; skip lines between.

  • Use short sentences and active voice.

  • Use plain text editor, not MS Word.

  • Avoid HTML.

  • Avoid fancy typefaces.

Message text contd
Message Text (contd.)

  • Write in standard professional English with Capitalization and correct spelling.

    • Don’t try to impress.

    • Avoid chat speak, e.g., CUL8R & emoticons, .

  • Don’t type in All Caps – like yelling.

  • Avoid !!!

  • Avoid using URGENT and IMPORTANT.

  • Use * * to highlight text if you must.

  • Proofread & spell check.

Message text contd1
Message Text (contd.)

  • Quote back selectively when replying to long messages.

    • “Yes, I agree.” is useless without context.

    • Top quote vs. bottom quote – no consensus.

    • Avoid “Fisking,” replying line by line in an argumentative manner.

  • For URL links use SNIPURL to shorten long URLs or enclose in < >.

    • Free service http://snipurl.com/

Message text contd2
Message Text (contd.)

  • Identify yourself clearly to cold contacts.

    • Hello, I am…The reason I am writing…

    • Hello, so-in-so suggested I contact you…

  • Respond Promptly.

    • Apologize if you don’t.

    • Interim reply when too busy.

  • Don’t shoot the messenger.


  • Use sparingly.

  • Cut and paste relevant parts of attachment into text of Email.

  • Use URL links instead.

    • Upload attachments to website and cite URL.

    • http://www.scribd.com/ is a free service.

  • Recipients who do not know you may be reluctant to open attachments or click URLs.

Attachments contd
Attachments (contd.)

  • Post attachment first to avoid “Oops, here’s the attachment.”

  • Trend is posting large attachments into blogs followed by Email announcement.

    • Gives people a chance to comment on attachment without a series of “Reply All” messages.

    • Those interested can check comments or use RSS feed to be notified.

Signature line
Signature Line

  • Include (if you want people to contact you)

    • Your name

    • Title

    • Organization

    • Email address (especially on listservs)

    • Website

    • Phones

  • Can be shortened for frequent correspondents or placed in header of Email stationery.

Signature line contd
Signature Line (contd.)

  • If you must include a quote in signature keep it short.

  • “This message is intended for…”

    • Clutters up Email.

    • Often longer than message.

    • Omit unless your company requires it.

  • Avoid vCards because some readers treat them as attachments.


  • Threads

    • Multiple replies can get out of hand, but continue them to maintain the tread.

    • When they start to drift start a new thread with explanation.

  • Be true to venue.

    • Formal vs. informal

  • Don’t Flame

    • More common in chats and blogs, but still wrong.

Style contd
Style (contd.)

  • Forwarding stuff, e.g., chain letters

    • Avoid; annoys most people.

    • Check address list before forwarding a ”Did you see this?” - They may have received it.

    • Use http://www.snopes.com/ to check urban legends.

    • If you must forward, strip out addresses and use BCC to hide your address list.

Style contd1
Style (contd.)

  • Do not overuse high priority option.

  • Avoid delivery and read receipts.

  • Do not ask to recall a message.

    • Just apologize and correct.

  • Do not copy a message or attachment without permission.

  • Do not scoop someone else’s message.

Style contd2
Style (contd.)

  • Chill out!

    • Avoid sending a snarky reply to a pissy Email.

    • Wait 24 hours.

    • Write, but don’t send.

    • Don’t reply at all and let them wonder.

    • Offer to speak by phone or in person; Email is not a good tool for “clearing the air.”

Style contd3
Style (contd.)

  • Chill out (contd.)

    • Leave no record of sensitive or emotional responses.

    • Never say in Email what you wouldn’t say in person or would not like to see in the press or defend in court.

    • Once you hit “Send” you have lost control of the Email.

      • You can never be certain that it was erased from all locations. Think of all Email as Permanent.

Confidentiality and security
Confidentiality and Security

  • Don’t assume privacy.

    • Unencrypted Email is not secure and may be monitored.

    • Don’t include in an unencrypted Email anything you would not want a third party to read.

    • Details of encrypting and digitally signing Email is beyond the scope of this presentation.

    • See Reference 14 for more detail.

Confidentiality and security contd
Confidentiality and Security (contd.)

Protecting attorney-client privilege

  • Email must be

    • A communication between attorney and client (person or corporation).

    • The purpose of which is to seek or obtain legal advice.

    • The communication is made to a lawyer acting in his/her capacity as a lawyer.

    • The communication must be made and kept in confidence.

Confidentiality and security contd1
Confidentiality and Security (contd.)

Protecting attorney-client privilege (contd.)

  • Provide employee training and awareness.

  • Segregate legal advice from business advice Emails.

  • Mark Emails containing such communication.

  • Limit distribution.

  • Any disclosure, even accidental, may waive privilege.

  • Have document retention and legal hold policy.

Confidentiality and security contd2
Confidentiality and Security (contd.)

Protecting yourself

  • Have a separate free Email account for newsletters, white paper registration, etc.

  • Delete browser history, cache, cookies, userids and passwords after using a public Internet connection.

  • Logout and close all Apps after using a public Internet connection. (Restart if possible.)

  • Don’t conduct company business on non-secure personal computer.

  • Back up your Email.

Confidentiality and security contd3
Confidentiality and Security (contd.)

Protecting yourself (contd.)

  • Beware of spam.

    • If it sounds too good, it is.

    • Report it.

  • Beware of Phishing attacks.

    • Forward them to customer service.

  • Never include personal or financial info in an Email.

  • Don’t unsubscribe from anything you did not subscribe to.

  • Beware of friend’s Emails.

Confidentiality and security contd4
Confidentiality and Security (contd.)

Protecting yourself (contd.)

  • Install a good security suite on your personal computer.

    • Many ISPs, e.g., COMCAST, provide them free.

  • Never share account info, even with family.

  • Use strong passwords.

    • Encrypt them on a password protected thumb drive.

  • Encrypt wireless connections.

  • Use encryption and digital signatures for important Email.

Managing email
Managing Email

  • Organize Email into folders.

    • Use company file plan for in-house Email.

  • Keep a copy of all sent Email.

  • Review and clean out folders periodically.

    • Good for rainy day or slow day at work.

    • Comply with company retention schedule.

  • Don’t print Email unless you need to refer to it remotely.

Managing email contd
Managing Email (contd.)

  • Declare Email bankruptcy

    • Inbox clogged with overdue responses.

    • Send Email to all correspondents apologizing for not replying and asking them to resend important Email.

    • Delete all old messages in Inbox.

    • Then check your inboxes daily.

Managing email contd1
Managing Email (contd.)

  • Use separate Email channels for separate communities:

    • Professional

    • Business

    • In-house

    • Family and friends

    • Hobbies and interests

    • Listservs

Managing email contd2
Managing Email (contd.)

  • Using web-based Email is the most flexible.

    • Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo

    • But, can’t access old mail unless connected.

    • Leave Email on server until you can download it to local storage.

  • Use “out of office” agent when away.


  • Calvin Sun. “10 common e-mail habits that waste time and cause problems.” [Online] July 2007. http://downloads.techrepublic.com.com/download.aspx?docid=302381

  • Author unknown. “Effective Email – How to communicate powerfully by email.” [Online] Downloaded November 2007. http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/EmailCommunication.htm

  • Ellen Dowling, PhD. “10 Tips for Effective E-mail.” [Online] Downloaded November 2007. http://www.mindtools.com/email.html

References contd
References (contd.)

  • Gene Wicker, Jr. “E-Mail Etiquette.” [Online] January 2005. http://iwillfollow.com/emailetiquette.pdf

  • Jessica Bauer and Dennis G. Jerz. “Writing Effective E-Mail: Top 10 Tips.” [Online] August 2004. http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/e-text/e-mail.htm

  • Guy Kawasaki. “The Effective Emailer.” [Online] February 2006. http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/02/the_effective_e.html

References contd1
References (contd.)

  • Amit Agarwal. “Never Forget To Include Email Attachments.” [Online] April 2007. http://labnol.blogspot.com/2007/04/never-forget-to-include-email.html

  • Kirk Shinkle. “Running an Office by Wiki and E-Mail.” [Online] February 2008. http://www.usnews.com/articles/business/small-business-entrepreneurs/2008/02/28/running-an-office-by-wiki-and-e-mail.html

References contd2
References (contd.)

  • Brenda R. Sharton and Gregory J. Lyons. “The Risks of E-Mail Communication: A Guide to Protecting Privileged Electronic Communications.” [Online] September 2007. http://www.abanet.org/buslaw/blt/2007-09-10/lyons.shtml

  • Author unknown. “The 25 Most Common Mistakes in Email Security.” [Online] Downloaded March 2008. http://www.itsecurity.com/features/25-common-email-security-mistakes-022807/

  • Author unknown. “Email etiquette.” [Online] Downloaded March 2008. http://www.emailreplies.com/

References contd3
References (contd)

  • Jason Krause. “Law Hacks: 101 tips, tricks and tools to make you a more productive, less stressed-out lawyer.” [Online] July 2007. http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/law_hacks/

  • Jason Krause. “Eek is for E-Mail: You can manage the mess of messages—but first let go of the paper.” [Online] May 2007. http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/eek_is_for_e_mail/

  • David Beckman and David Hirsch. “Thumb-Thing Good: For road warriors: trailer-size space in a finger-size ‘trunk’.” [Online] May 2007. http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/thumb_thing_good/

References contd4
References (contd.)

  • Tony Bradley. “Why You Should Encrypt Your Email.” [Online] Downloaded March 2007. http://netsecurity.about.com/cs/emailsecurity/a/aa051004.htm

  • ARMA Intl Standards Committee. “Working Collaboratively in an Electronic World.” 2007 (available for download from ARMA Bookstore)

  • ARMA Intl Pamphlet. “What Do I Do with All This e-Mail?” [Online sample] 2007 http://www.arma.org/pdf/BKEmailHowTo.pdf

  • Author unknown. “Citing Internet Resources.” [Online] Downloaded March 2007. http://www.classroom.com/community/connection/howto/citeresources.jhtml


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