How to write a good email

It is not a skill that you’ll find on any job applicant’s resume. But when I joined a high-level consulting firm some years ago, the two-week introductory training included a session on writing good emails.

It was worth spending time on this topic, because good emails save time and prevent mistakes.

So how do you write a good email?

  • Write concisely. This doesn’t mean your email can’t be long. It means your email shouldn’t be any longer than it needs to be.
  • Write precisely. Instead of “that document you showed in the meeting the other day”, refer to “the quarterly sales figures you showed me last Thursday”. This will save you and the recipient time and it will avoid misunderstandings.
  • Add structure. Use bullet points, headings, and bold text to break your email into chunks. It makes it easier for readers to understand your message. It also makes it easier to find a specific piece of information when you come back to this email later.
  • Consider sending multiple emails. If your email covers several topics, consider splitting it up into several emails. If you do choose to send one email, such as a status update on multiple projects, use headings.
  • Explicitly list action items. What do you want the recipient(s) to do? Do you need them to respond? By when? How?
  • Proofread. Even when you’re in a rush. In fact, proofread your email especially carefully when you’re in a rush.

Email isn’t always the best communication method. But if you’re going to write emails, write good ones.

Yours,

— Peter

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