Email Composition

[ratings]

Intro

From time to time I am catching myself explaining people how to write emails better or (even more often) why there is was a problem with communicating via email (which was caused by emails filtered by various SPAM filters or banned by mail-server). This time I though to write a page which will describe some aspects in order to make email communication easier and better.

Subject

Email subject is one of the most critical parts of the emails, since it is the first thing a recipient of the email sees, it is the number one criteria for searching old emails in the mailboxes as well as a very critical criteria for different email filters. A lot of attention should be given to specifying subject and here are some key points which should help one to write better subjects.

Subject Presence

Sending emails without subjects is the worst! Empty subjects do not tell anything about a following email. They are very badly displayed mailbox. They are impossible to memorize for future references and searches and they just simply awful. Always remember to right a subject, even if you are sending very small a simple email for any current issue to the person sitting next to you upon his request two seconds ago.

From some time ago, the situation with empty subjects started to improve since some email clients start giving alerts when a user tries to send email with subject, but still, some people just press \”Ok, go with no subject\” button.

Subject Meaningfulness

Always make sure your subject has a well defined meaning of what you are going to talk in the body of the email and this meaning is clear not only to you, but to any potential reader of the email. Subjecs like \”Hi\”, \”This is me\”, \”urgent\” and so on do not work, since they don\’t talk about an actual subject of the conversation. Even the often used subject \”urgent\” is bad since it is talking about an importance of a subject to be covered in the email, but not about subject item. A good subject could look like \”Meeting request for Fri 13\”.

Subject Length

In addition to the subject meaningfulness, please keep in mind that the subject length limited in the way it is displayed in a mail client, so keep it short. Normally, 5 – 10 words should be more than enough to indicate what you are talking about as well as they will fit well in the display of the recipients mail client.

CAPS

Never ever use CAPS lock (all capitals) in a subject. CAPS is hard to read and in many cases acts as shouting in a verbal speech. In addition it will cause problems with SPAM filters.

Content

After we have looked into subject of the email, lets see how to write the actual content of the email.

CAPS

Like with the subject, do not use CAPS lock. In the body of the email it looks even more ugly since normally you have more than one line of text and having all CAPS makes the whole body look bulky. Letters are hard to read, lines are hard to be separated one from another. It also looks like impolite shouting and is bad for SPAM filters.

Format

HTML and RTF (Reach Text Format) are formats of the text which allow different markups like colors, images, selection of font family and styles. Most of the emails clients support both reading and composing in such formats and a lot of them have this format on by default for email composition, which is not that good. Though emails in such formats may look more nice and fancy, the may annoy the recipient, they are bigger in side than plain text ones as well as look like SPAM which normally tries to attract some more attention with contrast colors. Try to stick to plain text emails unless it is totally necessary to have some special markup in the emails.

Structure

I have noticed that a lot of people like composing huge emails in one paragraph, where several thoughts/sub-subjects are not separated by any means. Such emails are hard to read because different ideas can not be traced within the text and even more harder to reply to them, since in most of the cases you can not just quote the whole text, but need to quote small parts of it and ignore some other parts of the email.

As with the handwriting, separate your text into paragraphs. More over, if you have a lot to say and can separate your words under several independent topics, send multiple emails one per topic. This will assure better subject as well as body of the email.

Volume

As with above point, don\’t write too much, but make sure you right enough to cover subject. Be specific and up to the point, this way you will make sure a reader will understand you and in the same time you will not annoy him/her.

Signature

As in normal mails, signature is a short paragraph at the end of the email which normally shows some respect to the reader from the side of the writer as well as contain some basic information about the author of a letter. Though it does not play that huge role as subject and body of the email, it should still be written properly.

Length

I have noticed that a lot of people either don\’t write signature at all, or write a huge one, including their name, all phone numbers, addresses and whatever else. In many cases (especially with short emails) I see that the signature is much longer than the content of the email itself. Make your signature short. A phrase with regards, your name, position and company (for business emails) should be more than enough. At most, you can also include one contact phone, but if you don\’t the recipient of an email can always get one by sending you a messege where (s)he will ask for the ways to call you.

Avoiding signatures is also not good ideas, especially when using a group email (when more than one person can send out emails using this address) since the recipient wants to know whom he is talking about as well as know the exact spelling of your name.

Format

There are few quite standard formats for email signatures. One is to use two dashes (\”–\”) to separate the signature from the email body, then your name on a new line a position and company on the next two lines a bit indented. The second one is a separating line, then name, position and company with no indents one one per line. Try to keep your signature format uniform to the whole company (if possible).

In addition, most of the mail clients support signature templates where you just write your signature the way you want it once, and then it will be appended to all your messages automatically during the time of composition. Utilize this feature since it will ensure your signature is always same and will not create any confusions on the recipients side as well as will look consistent.

Attachments

Quite often people want to send some additional files along with their emails (like brochures, supporting documents and whatever else). In this part I will cover some points regarding attaching files to your emails.

Description

Whenever you are intending to send a file to someone as an attachment, make sure you mention about the following attachment in the body of email, so the recipient of the email known what will be in the file attached. Nowadays, the situation with all those viruses and other malicious stuff is kind of not the best, so if you want the recipient to open an attachment, let him know what you have put there, otherwise he might just ignore it for safety reasons.

Format

When sending some files to anyone, make sure the recipient has an appropriate application to open and read a file. Also keep in mind that some formats are not considered to be safe and get cut by antiviruses and SPAM filters. The best way for sending brochures and similar content is by using PDF format. Archives (such as ZIP, RAR and similar) are also good ways. Pictures normally go with no problems as well. For the majority of the rest file formats, an archiver can be used to pack the files in a more safe container, so you can basically zip a file and send it within a zip attachment.

Size

Another important thing to consider while sending attachments is their sizes. First of all, most of the mail systems have limit on maximum email size (common practice is 10Mb, but may vary), so if you email is bigger then this limit, the email system will reject it.

Second thing to keep in mind is that some not everyone have big bandwidth or their traffic might be expensive, so please respect them and try to send smaller files (or use archivers as well).

If your attachment is too big, you can try to split it into several files (WinRAR can do the job) and send it vie more than one email, but you might also consider passing the file using other means of communication.

Footnotes

  • All the content above was by not invented by me. Email communication is a very old technology and there are a bunch of common rules and tips on how to use it. Unfortunately, due to the increase of the bandwidth and thirst for fancy stuff, people start forgetting/avoiding following the guidelines on how to use emails, and this article just points some of them.
  • Most of these hints I was getting here and there while using email and trying to be nice myself. There are a lot of similar articles out there on the internet, so if you need some more information, check out Google, or any other search engines and you will definitely find a lot more of the related content.
  • Not all of the guidelines may be applicable everywhere due to many conditions like company policies, people you are communicating with and so on. Nor the points above are strict rules (though I wish some of them would be), instead, these are just basic hints to consider.
  • This article mostly covers only composition of new emails and skips the reply and forward part (though much of the above would apply for all these activities). Hopefully I will write about replying and forwarding to emails some time later, so if you have some points in mind, let me know.
  • I am not a professional writer, so my language is not the best one, in addition to the whole bunch of mistakes I (probably) did above, so if you find something, let me know.
  • If you have any suggestions/comments, please leave them below in a comments or contact me directly. I will be more than happy to hear from you.

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