Dawn Foster at GigaOm has a nice discussion of How to Write Better Emails. I've talked about many of these things as well, but it's nice to see this on a widely-read website. Having a set of good email sending practices half the supposed battle against "email overload."
The lead off thought: Don't send it to begin with! That's the best way to reduce your own inbox, as well as that of your friends and colleagues. How many emails do you get that go right into the dumper because it contains nothing for you? Or you read it and wonder what the sender was trying to say? If there is going to be any question, don't bother sending the mail. Pick up the phone or do something else instead. Dawn also suggests putting the information online and letting people find it - or pointing them to it - instead of burying it in an email.
If you still need to send that email, Dawn provides some other great suggestions as well.
- Great subject lines: short, precise, keywords, dates
- Be concise in the body of the email: This is one of the places where I struggle the most. I often write a message and on reviewing it, realize that the main request can be summarized in a sentence or two. And I suggest putting this at the top of the message - where people on mobile phone and with email previews can see the request quickly.
- Don't bury key information. Even worse: don't hide it in an attachment or force me to visit a web link to find out the date or how much it costs. (I'm looking at you conference planners.) Caution here: I find it useful when people give me the key information and then say, "more details can be found at this web location."
- Good closing. As I said, I suggest putting the summary at the opening of the message. But it can't hurt summarizing at the end too. Dawn also includes an interesting comment about signatures: be brief here too. I almost always insert my simple business / social signature, in case it's not obvious how to contact me. (Not everyone knows to try a URL made of my email domain name - not everyone knows what "domain name" is.)
Thanks to several people on Twitter for pointing to this article!
[Photo: "No Email Messages" by Daniel]