Email is an integral part of today’s culture, both at work and at home.
Most employees spend significant time reading, responding to, and managing emails. The average worker spends about 28% of their time managing their inbox.
Because you devote so much time and energy to your inbox, it's important to get the most out of it. The emails you send should be effective, efficient, and help you get the results you want. Let's take a look at the email communication best practices you need to know to get the most out of your inbox.
Why email communication best practices are important
First things first: it’s important to follow email communications best practices in order to:
- Strengthen relationships: Email communication best practices help you better communicate, whether by writing more succinct messages or being more discerning in who you include on your emails. Improved communication can lead to improved relationships with your professional contacts.
- Help you stay organized: When your inbox is a mess, it can be hard to find the emails you need, when you need them – and it can be easy for things to fall through the cracks. By putting the right structure and best practices into place, you can keep your inbox better organized and enjoy all the benefits that come with it (like a more streamlined user experience and less time spent searching for specific messages).
- Increase productivity: When you don’t have a clear, defined, strategic approach to email communication, you’ll likely waste a lot of time navigating and managing your inbox. But with the right email communication best practices, you can ensure that the time you spend on email is time well spent – or, in other words, time spent productively.
- Drive results: No matter what you’re trying to accomplish with your email (like making more connections, closing business deals, or getting the word out about your company), having a set of best practices in place for your email communications will help you drive results.
Best practices to up your email game
Now that you understand why email communication best practices are so important, let’s jump right into the practices you need to maximize your email communication – and reap the rewards in the process:
Define what you want to say
If you want to improve your email communication, the first practice you’ll want to keep in mind actually happens before you write a single word.
Defining the point of your email – and how you want to communicate that point – is critical. Taking the time to define your email’s purpose before you actually start writing it offers a variety of benefits, including:
- Clearer messaging: When you know what you want to say, how you want to say it, and the reason you’re saying it, it’s easier to translate your thoughts into words more clearly, which makes for better, more effective emails.
- Better results in fewer emails: When you know your email’s purpose, it helps you get right to the point – which can help you get the results you want in fewer messages (no more endless back-and-forths!).
- Less time spent drafting emails: When you have clarity around your email’s purpose and content, you don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about what you want to write, which can cut back on the total time you spend drafting emails – time you can then use for other, more important tasks.
The best way to define what you want to say in an email is to ask yourself a few key questions:
- Why am I writing this email?
- What is the core message I want to convey in this email?
- What results do I hope to get from this email?
Answering these questions before you start writing will ensure that you understand the point and purpose of your email, as well as the best way to get that point and purpose across.
Adjust your voice based on your audience
When it comes to email, not all messages are created equal. If you want to communicate effectively, you need to tailor your emails based on your audience.
When you write an email, you need to adjust the tone and voice based on who you’re sending the email to. For example, an email to your boss, company’s CEO or to a potential client is going to have a different voice and tone from an email that you would send to your work BFF.
As you write your email, think about your relationship with the recipient and adjust your tone and voice accordingly. For example, if you’re emailing a potential client, you’d want to use a more professional voice and tone, while an email to your co-worker can be more laid-back and casual.
Now, it’s true that you’ll want to write a professional email to certain contacts. But it’s important not to go overboard. Emails that are too professional or formal can come across as insincere or stuffy. Instead, write in an approachable, yet professional voice – similar to the way you would talk to the recipient during an in-person conversation.
A great way to gauge whether your email’s voice and tone are on point? Read your email out loud. If your email doesn’t read like the way you would talk to your contact in person, revise it until it does.
Use editing to your advantage
In a perfect world, you’d be able to knock out a flawless email on the first try. But we don’t live in a perfect world – and the truth is, if you want to send effective emails, you’re going to have to edit them.
If your email is full of punctuation errors, incorrect grammar, and spelling mistakes, people might assume that you’re careless or lack attention to detail – both of which can hurt your professional reputation.
That’s why proofreading every email before you hit send is an absolute must. Proofreading ensures that no unintended errors make it into your final draft (or the recipient’s inbox). The good news? You don’t need to be a grammar expert to send perfectly proofread emails. There are a number of tools out there that will do the proofreading for you, like ProWritingAid or Grammarly.
Just keep in mind that, while these tools are definitely effective, it’s not unheard of for some editing issues to slip through the cracks, so make sure to give your email one final review before you hit Send.
The way you format your email is almost as important as what you actually write. When an email is formatted incorrectly, it can be hard for the end user to read, and your message can ultimately be lost.
So how should you format your emails?
- Avoid big blocks of text. Big blocks of text can feel visually overwhelming. Instead, break text down into short paragraphs, and make sure there’s proper space between those paragraphs.
- Choose the right font and font size. Avoid any fonts that are hard to read (like graphic or cursive fonts). Instead, stick with professional, easy-to-read fonts (like Arial) and make sure to choose a font size that allows your recipient to easily read your text (11 or 12 is typically a safe bet).
- Use bold, italics, and underline for emphasis. If there’s a specific point you want to emphasize in your email, call attention to it by switching up the font style. For example, you can bold, italicize, or underline it.
The last editing element you’ll want to consider when drafting emails? Length.
Emails should be short and to the point (no one wants to read a novel!). Say what you need to say as succinctly as you can. Once you’ve drafted your email, read it over and eliminate any extra words, filler, or fluff. If you can get your point across in fewer words, do so.
Write the right subject line
Before people read your email, they’re going to read your subject line, so you want to make sure that subject line actually gets them to read your full email.
But how do you write a subject line that increases the likelihood your recipient will open your message?
- Be specific. Broad subject lines like “Hey” or “Quick question” aren’t going to entice people to open your email. Instead, use your subject line to let people know what’s actually in the email, like “Available for a meeting at 12pm?” or “Notes from today’s brainstorming session”. That way, they know what to expect – and if it’s something they care about or that’s time-sensitive, they’ll be more inclined to open it.
- Keep it short. There’s only so much space in an email subject line, and if your subject line is too long, your recipient’s inbox will cut it off at the end. That’s why it’s important to keep subject lines short.
- Actually write it. In their haste to get an email message out, people sometimes forget to write a subject line at all. Don’t be that person! An email with [no subject] in the subject line is destined to end up in the Trash folder. So before you send an email, make sure you’ve included a subject line.
or about 7 words is the ideal subject line length.
Only send emails to necessary recipients
One way to solidify your reputation as a terrible email communicator? Carbon copy (CC) everyone you know on every email. No one wants to be bombarded with irrelevant emails, so if you want to improve your email communication, only send emails to people who absolutely need to receive them.
Keep the email chain as small as possible (ideally to just a top few, need-to-know people). Before you CC someone on an email, ask yourself, “does this person actually need to be included on this email?”. If the answer is yes, consider sending them a message directly. If the answer is no, don’t CC them. It’s as simple as that.
If you do need to CC people on an email – particularly a large group of people – use BCC. That way, you’re not sharing everyone’s contact details with the other recipients, and you’re also not crowding your recipients’ “to” field with a bunch of email addresses they don’t want or need.
Pause before hitting send
Once you send an email, you generally can’t get it back. So before you hit the Send button, take a pause and make sure your email is actually a message you want to send out into the world and into your recipient’s inbox.
Waiting to send an email can prevent you from saying something you don’t actually want to say out of frustration – particularly if it’s an emotionally or professionally charged email, like reprimanding someone for a mistake. Pausing before you hit Send can also give you some extra time to catch any mistakes you may have missed in your first round of edits and make changes as necessary.
Depending on what kind of email you’re sending, wait at least 10 minutes after you finish writing and editing it before you send it out. If it’s an especially emotionally charged email, consider giving yourself even more time, like an hour or even overnight.
The more time you give yourself, the less likely it is that you’ll send an email that you ultimately wish you could take back – and that’s time well spent.
Give recipients time to respond
When you send an email, you may want a quick response. But not everyone is attached to their inbox. Before you follow up (or get annoyed!), give your recipients plenty of time to respond to your message.
How much time? As a rule of thumb, give people 24 hours to get back to you via email. Extend that time frame to the next business day if you send your email on a Friday or weekend. If your message is urgent or time-sensitive, consider connecting through other communication channels, like sending them a message on Slack or (gasp!) giving them a call on the phone.
If you’re emailing someone you communicate with regularly, you should also take their general email response patterns into account.
For example, if you know that your colleague generally takes at least two to three days to respond to non-urgent emails, don’t send a follow-up email after 24 hours. On the flip side, if your boss typically responds to all of their emails within an hour or so, feel free to follow up if you haven’t heard back by the next business day.
Make sure your most important email communications don’t get lost in your inbox
You can’t be an effective email communicator if your emails are constantly getting lost in your inbox, which is why getting (and staying!) organized is an absolute must.
Inbox organization – which includes everything from sorting your important messages into easy-to-access folders to getting rid of unnecessary emails and ensuring urgent emails get your immediate attention – offers a host of benefits.
- Makes your inbox easier to navigate. When you prioritize organizing your inbox, you don’t have to sort through hundreds of unnecessary or unwanted emails to find what you’re looking for. This makes your inbox easier, and less overwhelming, to navigate.
- Cuts down on the amount of time you spend managing your email. When your inbox is organized, again, it’s easier to find what you need, when you need it, which can seriously cut back on the time you spend managing your inbox.
- Ensures no important emails get lost in the shuffle. When you have an organized, streamlined inbox, important messages are less likely to slip through the cracks.
Can you organize your inbox manually? Sure. But there email management software can help you automate the process and make organizing your inbox fast, effective, and painless – so use it!
Being able to communicate effectively via email is an absolute must in today’s professional world. The right approach to email management can help strengthen professional relationships, increase your productivity and efficiency, and get better results from your emails.
And now that you have these best practices, you have everything you need to improve your email communication (and enjoy all of the benefits that come with it).
Don’t get overwhelmed by email. Take control of your inbox and follow these 15 tips to help you master email management.