5 Deadly Sins Of Email Writing

Think the world revolves around you? Still refuse to write Twitter-style? No wonder colleagues ignore your emails.

Kristin Burnham, Senior Editor, InformationWeek.com

November 18, 2013

3 Min Read

With people sending and receiving more than 100 billion emails every day, it's no wonder clients and employees may miss -- or ignore -- your messages. According to productivity expert Neen James, information overload is to blame.

"People are just so overwhelmed. Emails, Facebook messages, tweets, texts -- all of this contributes to the problem," she said. "It's the information age, and that volume of information is increasing. People are inundated."

Changing the way you compose your emails can increase the odds that your colleagues and clients not only read them, but act on them, too. Here are five reasons recipients are skipping your messages, plus tips for changing that.

[ Some Yahoo users got more than they bargained for. Read more: Yahoo Recycled Emails: Users Find Security Surprises. ]

1. You forwarded a message
Randy Dean, email and productivity expert, said emails that begin with FWD in the subject line tend to be ignored immediately. "Many people forward messages with headers like 'Just thought you'd like to know,' or 'Can you please handle this?'" Dean said. "This is asking for people to skip over your message. There is no clarity or urgency in the message header or initial text."

Instead, tweak the subject line so your recipient knows why the email is important. This can include what they need to know, what they need to do, and when they need to get it done, Randall said.

2. Your subject lines are vague
Vague subject lines are just as bad as forwarded messages, according to James. To improve the chance of the recipient opening and reading your message, each email should contain an action-oriented subject line.

"People tweet in 140 characters or less to get a message across, and people should think of their subject line the same way," she said. "Tell your recipient exactly what you need from them in the subject line."

Another method: Develop a set of standards within your department -- or better yet, your company. This could include placing keywords such as "invoice" or "meeting" in the subject line as the first word so your recipients know how to respond, she said.

3. Your emails are all about you
"If you really want people to read your email, you need to make it about them and not you," James said. Before you click send, count the number of times you wrote "I," "me," and "my." If you notice the tally marks adding up, consider rewording your email, directing it more toward the recipient and what you want them to do.

4. Your emails are too long
Long, detailed emails are sometimes necessary. Increase the likelihood of others reading them by making them easily digestible. James recommends adding an executive summary at the top, which lets the recipient quickly scan for basic information. Use bullet points to call out important details, and add bold or italics to emphasize certain parts.

5. Your email is unnecessary
Before you click send, ask yourself: Do you really need to send that email? "The less you -- and everyone around you -- send unnecessary emails, the more likely they are to read your necessary ones," Dean said. "Make sure your emails have a valid and necessary purpose and are task-based."

What tips and tricks do you use to improve the quality of your emails? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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About the Author(s)

Kristin Burnham

Senior Editor, InformationWeek.com

Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior writer. Kristin's writing has earned an ASBPE Gold Award in 2010 for her Facebook coverage and a Min Editorial and Design Award in 2011 for "Single Online Article." She is a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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