Email Respect, by Charles W. Evans

Does Rodney Dangerfield write your e-mail?

You say your messages "don't get no respect"? Quick. When was the last time you read an e-mail message that influenced you?

Not often I'll bet. I receive dozens each day and most are basically ill-conceived "e-notes" obviously jotted down without much thought. This includes a number of PR releases and those folks should know better. Let's do better!

Now, how about firing Rodney and taking a hard look at what your e-mail looks like. Let me share some ideas and suggestions that I have learned the hard way. Heed them and you will write more effective messages. But be warned. Ignore these suggestions and your e-mail will join the same basket as those with the SUBJ: How to earn an MD in your spare time. And it isn't that hard - it just takes a bit of self-discipline and practice.

KISS, the Succinct Bug.

Just like a letter, don't write the world's history to date. Keep your message short, to the point and informative to the reader. Don't let your message run more than one screen - more if you really have important info to convey. But like a business letter, if you cannot say it on one page, then it's probably too long! Break your ideas into shorter paragraphs, each one of which has its own common goal. Put a space between paragraphs - indents alone just won't do it. Remember, when the reader sees your message it is smaller than on a printed business letter. "One goal, one e-mail" is your mantra.

Want Action?

Then do the obvious - ask. When writing to a business associate you recently met, recall the initial meeting in the first sentence, then state or repeat your request in the following sentence. It would be wise to repeat any important additional info, such as the date of any proposed meeting, time, prices, etc. Follow up is good business!

Want a foolproof technique to give attention to your most important point? Direct mail folks have known for decades that most people will read a "PS:" before the letter itself. Use it judiciously. Or, if more appropriate, N.B.: (Nota Bene or note well)

What's this e-mail about?

You would be surprised - heck, I'm surprised! - at the number of e-mail messages I receive that DO NOT have anything but the default "RE:" on the SUBJECT line. That's the headline of your message, just like the headline on a newspaper. Creating a helpful "headline" will separate you from the also-ran messages and increase the likelihood of yours being opened first. But don't scam your reader. For example, don't use such SUBJECTs as URGENT (worse still, uRGENT - turn off the caps lock key) or "Time dated, reply immediately". Be honest and succinct. Sure, if a meeting date has changed, use URGENT, but use it because it is appropriate.

Style, Grammar and Speeling

I received a nicely written e-mail from a senior executive the other day. It was in all lower case and only had a smattering of periods. I thought I had received an encrypted message! I've seen messages in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, speeling errors and, oh!, poor grammar. With a little care, anyone can write more better messages. Well, you get the point. Guess what assumption your reader will make? You are either a child who got into dad's computer or you are using one finger and who knows what you are doing with the other nine! What you really want to do is respect your reader. Most important, your reader won't take your seriously. (One moment please while I get down from my soapbox. Thank you.)

Some helpful techniques.

  1. Don't send lots of attachments - maybe even none. Charles, are you crazy? What's an e-mail without an attachment? I'll tell you what it is. A good e-mail. If you need to send an Excel file, OK, attach it. But do so with care. (A), you'll clog the system and (B), it may not actually be needed. Note: Be sure your receiver has software to view your attachment. Think before you attach.
  2. Watch the use of URLs (web site addresses). If you include one, make sure you don't end it with a period. It'll never work. Think before you URL.
  3. If you have several points or requests or items in your e-mail, use numbers. Just like this section. It is easier to read and easy to refer to each item by the numbers. Think before you make your list.
  4. Keep the continuity going. REPLY to the original or last message. This helps keep a context and continuity to the message series. And don't hide an important note. Put it at the top. On the other hand, please don't forward a cute message with all the hundreds to whom it was previously addressed! Think before you REPLY.
  5. Use your e-mail program's "signature" feature. This feature will automatically add text after the last line of your message. I use several and I choose the one appropriate to my message. I use one as Reviews Editor and another for personal use. Howsomever, keep it professional and don't include personal stuff or quotes, unless it is a personal message. Think before you sign.

Well, I've gotten this out of my system...and I hope into your system. Enjoy and let me know your pet e-mail peeve.

Charles W. Evans is a HAL-PC member and Magazine Reviews Editor, who can be contacted at

PS: You've probably noticed a "new" e-mail format. It looks like a web page (HTML format, the big guys call it.). So what about it? This newer type of e-mail is a much larger file than a standard "text only", so it can clog the system. If you choose to send an e-mail using the HTML format, be courteous and ask permission to do so. Second, mass e-mailers really don't know if your address is valid or not. But when you OPEN (as in open-to-read) these e-mails, you could be sending back a notice that your e-mail is, in fact, a good address. Of course, it will be shared.for money, lots of money and lots of unwanted e-mail!