August 2017

How to write a better work email

Emailing has been such a commonplace part of our lives for so long now that you might not give the emails you send as part of your job any thought—or, conversely, you might give them far too much thought.

Jennifer Romolini, author of Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures, has put together a list of rules to help you craft solid work emails. Her first rule of thumb? Say less. Her second rule of thumb: Chill. And here are the rest of her rules:

1. Don’t write an email when you’re feeling angry, anxious, sad, or ashamed. Don’t speed-read an email that includes critical feedback, get riled up, perhaps misread the message, puff up your chest, respond with something defensive, and subsequently come across as a demented jerk. If you’re experiencing an extreme level of emotion, write a draft of the email you want to send, and wait at least two hours to send it, reading it over first. Don’t pop off and send something you may later regret. It’s in writing forever.

2. Read your most important emails aloud before you hit “Send.” If they sound testy or rude, and you don’t want to sound testy or rude, soften the language. Kindness is a choice, and it’s an easy one once you let down your guard and realize that no one can actually hurt you over this email chain. Equally, read your correspondence aloud and listen for overly timid language and excessive apologies. You’re allowed to be direct and ask for what you want. Just do it with correct grammar and a few niceties, like “Thanks.”

3. When in doubt, go slightly more formal. Use all of the manners you have learned in this world as a civilized human. Be friendly but polite (unless you’re writing to someone you know well, and a formal tone would seem spiteful or passive-aggressive).

4. Keep in mind that the people you’re writing are probably receiving dozens of emails a day. Be considerate of their time; ask them to do the fewest things possible, and identify the point of your email or what you want help with in the first few sentences.

5. Consider whether you want this message in writing. Would you rather not have a permanent record of this conversation? Can you achieve what you desire by picking up the phone or walking a few steps to an adjacent cubicle? Would this actually make things less complicated?

6. Have a goal. Whenever possible, an email should be about one topic and about how the other person can take action on this topic.