Composing A Great Email

Love it or hate it, email communication is a huge part of our professional lives now. In fact, I know many folks who get 500+ emails every day. These people are busy! I would venture to say that most of us don’t have time to read through all of those emails, especially when they are lengthy. In this world of communication saturation, we must tighten up how we talk to each other in order to get our readers to take action.

If you want a better response rate, check out my simple guideline for composing great emails

An email should answer four basic questions

  1. Who:Does the recipient know you? If not, tell them who you are.
  2. What:State the purpose of the email immediately. Emails fall into two categories: informative “just letting you know” or actionable “action required.”
  3. Why:Explain the importance of your email and how it’s relevant to your recipient.
  4. When:Communicate the timing needed to accomplish the “what”. When will you follow up? When do you need to hear back?


Make action items clear and timely

If applicable, make sure you clearly list out your action items, along with who is responsible and when it’s due. When left open ended, action items will fall on your shoulders!

A tip for subject lines

Make them specific to the content of your email. Instead of “following up” write “re-brand project follow up.” Doing this will help your recipient wade through their inbox and make sense of the chaos.

Make it easy for people to contact you

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a search in my email to find someone’s phone number. Instead of hiding it in your signature, just write your phone number in the body of the email. Your co-workers, clients and vendors will thank you.

Keep it short and sweet

There is certainly a time and place for long, detailed emails. However, most of your day-to-day communications should remain short and concise. Get to the point as quickly as possible, state your mission, and get out. Again, with so much over-communication in the workplace, it’s better to keep things short.

Here’s what it looks like in action:

Subject: Re-brand Project: Action Items

Dear John,

It was nice to meet you at this morning’s re-brand project kickoff meeting [WHO]. I wanted to follow up with you on the next steps for the project [WHAT], so we can deliver on time for the October conference [WHY].

Project Next Steps [WHEN]:

  • Create detailed schedule: Bill, due 5/1
  • Set up first review meeting: Bill, due 5/2
  • Send background documents: John, due 5/2

If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at (360) 445-3578.

Thanks, Bill

See, that wasn’t so hard! Take a look at your sent box and do a quick audit of your own emails. Can you improve how you communicate?

Want to learn more about writing great emails? Check out John Sturdevant’s workshops. I attended his persuasive business writing class a while back and found it to be very useful.

Now get out there and write some clear and concise emails!