FAQ’s For Writing Effective Emails

English: email envelope

Have you ever deleted an email before opening it? Or responded to a long email before reading it all the way through?

You may feel a twinge of guilt over doing this, but perhaps it’s not completely your fault. After all, if the subject line had caught your attention, and the note was concise, would you have responded differently?

Despite the fact that email has been around for decades, there is still a lot of confusion about what makes a good or bad email. So, we’ve put together a list of commonly asked questions about emails to help your email communications become more readable, concise, and recipient-friendly.

FAQ’s for Emails

How long should my emails be?

  1. Regardless if you are writing an internal or external email, keep your message focused. Internal emails with a long message will often get a reply before the recipient has finished reading the email, which can cause miscommunications. Long external emails may never get read at all.
  2. Keep your emails short and to the point, addressing only a single issue or topic per email. If your email requires mention of a number of topics, be sure to bullet or number your points to help your recipient dissect the message.
  3. In a lengthier email, break up content into short, readable paragraphs, broken up by blank lines, not indentations.
  4. Make the objective clear. If you want the answer to a question, advice on a situation, or action on an item, be sure the intent of your message is clear, and not lost in all the text.

How long should the subject line be?

There are a couple rules of thumb for email subject lines. The first: TELL, don’t SELL. Make sure your subject line actually describes the content of your email.

Elusive, clever, and ambiguous email subject lines may be attention-grabbing, but they flag the side of our brain that says “SPAM!” and more often end up in the trash than in our inbox.

In addition to the content of the subject line, the size of the subject line also makes a difference. Generally, 50 characters or less is the best size for an email subject line. Too small a subject line and the email doesn’t engage the reader. Too long of a subject line puts emails in the unread “dead zone.”

Is it ever ok to use ALL CAPS?

NOPE. It can always be misconstrued as yelling. Instead, draw attention to important points by using bold face font or *asterisks*.

How should my email be formatted?

The text of your email should be readable, standard, and expected. Acceptable fonts are simple serif and sans serif fonts such as Times and Arial.

Fancy fonts, wallpapers, images, and too many links cause stops in a reader’s process. Also, stay away from abbreviations (i.e. “thx 4 ur help 2day”), and always proofread for proper grammar.

What about attachments?

Whenever possible, avoid using attachments. Attachments are seen as a negative in email communications because:

  • They can contain viruses and malware
  • They eat up bandwidth
  • They are sometimes difficult to open
  • They do not work well on mobile devices
  • They require downloading and opening in a separate program
  • They break up the reading process of the email
  • If response is needed, it requires the recipient to re-attach the attachment which can be tedious and confusing

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