Writing effective emails

Learn how to communicate with colleagues and external stakeholders using short and clear emails.

Keep in mind that this approach may not work for everyone. So use your common sense when it comes to email management.

Choosing to email

To improve the quality of your communication and reduce information overload, you must first consider if an email is the right channel. Discuss this with your team.

For example:

  • if you need a quick answer, is an instant message or a phone call better?
  • if your email is getting a bit on the long side, it might be better to have a deeper conversation with that person?
  • if you are updating a project, could you do this in the document itself?
  • if it is sensitive information, is it better to talk about it face to face or in a video call? How or should this be sent via email?

Use a descriptive subject

Be clear and informative in the subject line, because this will help your recipient save time and prioritise.

In the subject you could include:

  • the topic
  • the action (for information, for review, for approval, for action…)
  • the deadline
  • the priority level, agreed with the team (low priority, official sensitive, end of message…)

For example: “Project name, for review, by 6 October, high priority”

People receive many emails each day and they need to be able to quickly prioritise.

Be clear in the content of your email

Understanding the action needed in response to an email is also important. A little thought in structuring your emails ensure the recipient is clear in what the ask is and how it should be done.

For the content:

  • start with the reason for writing, using the inverted pyramid technique: place a summary of your information first, with the ask, and the background information further down the email
  • edit yourself to keep content as short as possible
  • remain friendly, polite and considerate, for example check people’s name spelling before you press ‘send’
  • if the conversation continues over a few emails, it can be helpful to start a new thread
  • add ‘no need to respond’ if it is the final conversation

Also note that it is ok not to reply right away or to reply with a very short answer. Do not take it personally. Some people might be short on time or very focussed and they will reply in their own way.

Make your email accessible

You may not know the person you are emailing has an invisible disability, for example dyslexia or visual impairment.

Accessibility relates to content, so you need to:

  • write clear short sentences, which are always better than long ones
  • use good contrast for background and text
  • avoid unusual fonts, and the use of bold and italic, which are not easy to read for people with dyslexia
  • is there a more accessible font/ font size? (for example using the font Arial in size 12 is helpful)
  • avoid justified text as it makes it harder to read
  • use headers to structure the information
  • use alternative text and clear descriptions if you include images
  • use meaningful link text, where we avoid the use of ‘click here’.

For example: use ‘Read the guidance‘ instead of ‘click here for the guidance’ (and ‘click here’ being the link).

The reason for embedded links or hyperlinks is for people using a screenreader software. Most screenreaders say “link” before each link. So they will hear ‘link click here’, which is not helpful.

Consider attachments and replies

Discuss with your team how to manage emails to avoid copying everyone all the time or hitting ‘reply all’ when it’s not needed.

About attachments:

  • logos in email signature and big attachments can be a time waster, because of downloading time, so think about avoiding them
  • try sharing documents on shared drives as this also helps linking to the most up to date information
  • for very large files, consider using file transfer websites such as WeTransfer

Action, file or delete

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the volume of emails, so putting a system in place to help you manage them can help.

You could for example:

  • create rules for certain people or projects so that the message goes directly into that folder
  • file what you need to keep using folder or labels
  • forward or delete emails that you don’t need to action