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pixel.gif (807 bytes) Compose your messages with care
IT MATTERS, OF COURSE, what you put in your email messages. A well-constructed message will make life easier for your readers and improve your chances of getting the response you want.

The address

  • If there’s more than one recipient, address the message to the ones who need to take action: The people that you address your message to should be the ones who really need to take notice of it.
  • Copy in those people for whom the message is ‘information only’: Don't expect action from those who've been cc'd.
  • Keep copies to a minimum: Think hard before copying in all and sundry. Given that they lead busy lives too, check that the information really is important to them.

The header

  • Never leave it blank: The header is what tells the reader what's in the message. If it's blank, there is no way to tell what the message is about or how important it is. It's lazy and impolite to leave the header blank, so don't be surprised if the message is deleted without being read.
  • Make it meaningful: The header should clearly describe the content of the message. With a meaningful header, you're more likely to be read. You'll also find it easier to locate messages when they've been archived.
  • Try making it the message: You may be able to put your whole message in the header - "Meeting agreed for Monday at 2 your place" - saving the reader the trouble of opening the email.

The body

  • Be concise, without being abrupt: Nobody wants to read a lot of text on-screen - it's hard work (25% slower than paper) and tedious. So keep your message as short as you can, without being rude - there's a fine line between being concise and being curt.
  • Put the main point up front: You save your reader time if you get to the point straight away. That way, they only need to read on if they need more detail. And if your email really has to be lengthy, you can list the key points at the top of the message and then deal with them one by one under clear headings.
  • Keep paragraphs short: It's easier to read text in short paragraphs - a good rule is to limit each paragraph to a single point. And where possible, go a step further and use bulleted lists rather than prose as they are much easier to scan.
  • Use plain, simple English: This point is not really unique to email but is worth restating nevertheless. Plain English is easier to read and more likely to be understood. And because email is somewhere between a 'phone call and a letter, you can afford to be relaxed and conversational in tone. This does not mean that spelling and grammar can be ignored. If your messages are going outside your organisation, you need to take as much care as you would with a paper communication.
  • Know when to talk in code: Smileys (those strange symbols which express emotions, like :-) for happy and :-( for sad) and e-cronyms (BTW for 'by the way' and GAL for 'get a life') are only for the initiated. Email should not be the province of some secret society, so stick to English even if it takes a little longer.

The signature

  • Keep it short: The signature is the automatic sign-off you append to your message. If you need one at all, keep it down to under six lines and spare the bandwidth for more important content.
  • Provide contact information: What a signature can do is provide your reader with a number of ways to contact you - your telephone and fax numbers, your address and maybe your web site. That way your reader can choose the most suitable way to get in touch.


  • Avoid them if you can: Like many things in live, attachments are incredibly useful and also incredibly over-used. They can be too short - in which case they may as well be part of your message - or too long. A very high proportion of disk space on a mail server is taken up by attachments, very many of which are frivolous. When you send an animation or a video to ten people you are actually creating ten new copies of the file. Why not provide the web address or the path on your file server and let your readers access the file there?
  • Describe them in the body: When you add an attachment, provide a description of what it contains in the body of your message. That way the reader only needs to open the attachment if they're really interested.

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                                                     Fastrak Consulting Ltd, 1999. All rights reserved.                                  Last revised 3/5/99