Email Etiquette: 5 Tips for Improved Communications

Think about your work email inbox. How much time do you spend each day reading and responding to emails?

As the recipient, when responding to an email, how often do you have a need to request clarification from the sender? Are there things that the sender could have communicated upfront or differently that would have negated the need to request that information?

Because so much of our work has shifted into virtual spaces, many may rely on email even more than previously. Email is not the same as or a replacement for face-to-face interaction. Some thought should be given to the best method for communicating your message. If email is necessary, then using a structured approach to compose it will help you produce professional, clear and comprehensive communications. Consider these five tips when writing an email to improve your communications:

1. Tailor your message to the recipient

You should know who your intended audience is when developing your email. Use the appropriate tone and familiar terms. If your audience is unfamiliar with your terminology, such as overly technical jargon, you may confuse your recipients or lose their attention. Try to use plain language and write so a layperson would be able to understand your message.

2. Use meaningful subject lines and indicate urgency

Have you received an email that contains a vague subject line such as “Meeting?” Other than inferring the email is about a meeting, there is no specific information provided to help the recipient identify who or what the meeting is about. One tip is to use action-oriented words such as “Request,” “For Review,” “Response Required” to indicate what is requested or expected of the recipient. Include enough basic information to have a preview of what is communicated. For example, “Request: New Employee Orientation Training Meeting.” If you are requesting data and have a due date, include that date in the subject line.

3. Lead with key information

While you have your recipient’s attention, lead with the most important information. What do they need to know or do? You can share more background once you’ve gotten your key point across. If you do not begin with the key information your recipient may not read far enough and miss the critical details in your message.

4. Be concise and strategic

Have you received an email that communicates one piece of information, which is then followed by another email shortly thereafter with an additional piece of information that should have been included in the first? It helps to take a step back and see if you have communicated everything that should have been in your email, and what the sender should expect to do in response. Save your recipient guesswork by addressing the W’s (who, what, when, where, why). Include any necessary actions: due date(s), if applicable, and the point(s) of contact for questions.

Especially when you are dealing with a high level of complexity in what you are communicating, consider including what is essential for the recipient to know, and suggest speaking by phone or holding a meeting.

5. Proofread your work

Checking your work does not take long and should be done when preparing all professional communications. Check your grammar, spelling, any attachments, hyperlinks and recipients before sending.

Many of us spend a lot of time composing and responding to emails on a daily basis. By having a structured approach, you will be more effective in your communications and save your recipients as well as yourself valuable time.

Helpful Resources:

See related GovLoop Featured Contributor Hope Marshall’s blog post here

Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University Email Etiquette

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Winter 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Christine is Deputy Director, Office of Ethics and Integrity of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This article was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or the federal government. Christine also serves as a Community Volunteer Leader for the American Red Cross, Montgomery, Howard, and Frederick County Chapter, and on the advisory committee for her city pool and fitness center. She is inspired to write about endurance, volunteerism, and career management, among other topics. In her “spare” time she is an avid swimmer and runner, and enjoys spending time with her family, friends and pets. Her motto is: “Work hard, play hard.”

This writing was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or Federal Government.

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