How to Write Email

  1. Send email in plain text - not “formatted” or HTML. Your font is hideous and your gratuitous spacing is offensive. Don’t even get me started on background images. Convey your message with punctuation, letters, words and sentences. If something is *really important* you can use asterisks, like that.
  2. Keep it short and to the point - a few sentences is almost always enough. There are many mantras about keeping your emails to two sentences or three sentences but the point is just that a shorter and simpler message is quicker and easier to understand for your reader. Always strive for the minimum.
  3. Proofread every email at least once - even if it’s just a “quick” email to a coworker, correct spelling and grammar are not optional. Your communications with other people are your connections with the world. Leaving those communications riddled with spelling or grammar errors only serves to jeopardize your accuracy, dilute your meaning and destroy the perception of your personal quality.
  4. Use a signature only with unknown companies - it’s entirely redundant and unnecessarily noisy when emailing people you already know, or personal contacts. They already know your name and email address, they don’t care about your company title, and they don’t need 8 phone numbers with which to contact you. Most mail clients let you configure your mail signature based on at least which account you’re sending from, if not by the person you’re sending to. Use it.
  5. Use quoting only to clarify a conversation - not as a huge anchor at the bottom of every email. Many email clients unfortunately insert the quoted text from the message you are replying to and most people don’t care, so they type their message above the quote—called “top posting”—and add to the madness (sometimes it’s several messages long). If you’re replying to specific parts of a message, type your response under the quoted part you intend to reply to and remove the rest of the quote.

Sample Email Exchange

To: John Doe <john@example.com>
From: Jane Smith <jane@example.com>
Subject: Buy Movie Tickets

Hi John,

Don’t forget to buy the movie tickets before Thursday.

That reminds me—have you looked up the directions to the theater?
To: Jane Smith <jane@example.com>
From: John Doe <john@example.com>
Subject: Re: Buy Movie Tickets

On July 11, 2008, Jane Smith wrote:
> That reminds me—have you looked up the directions to the theater?

Yeah, I’ve got it all figured out.

Originally published:
April 26, 2010

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