Six steps to more effective email

By Greg Dardis / Guest Column

Last year, the average employee sent and received 123 business emails a day, according to the Radicati Group.

For all its time-saving power, wading through a stuffed inbox can be exhausting. And sometimes – rightly so – we suspect that email is creating more work. That’s because the vast majority of us have not been trained to send effective emails.

Email is the most common form of workplace communications and perhaps the most misused. In an era of texting and tweeting, we’ve gotten sloppy in our email use. It’s not just the dramatic tales that make me cringe: an accidental reply-all with far-reaching consequences or a college that emailed acceptance notifications to students who were not admitted. It’s the everyday emails that need to be read a second and third time because they lack clarity, the ones that fail to meet the sender’s goals and the ones that could be so easily refined.

Our popular business writing course provides in-depth email instruction. We review the writing process, share proofreading strategies and discuss scenarios when you should pick up the phone rather than type out an email.

I would like to share these tips on an introductory level.

First, write a meaningful subject line. Sometimes we gloss over this step, tired by the work involved in composing the body of the message. But writing a subject line is a good test to ensure that you know the exact purpose of your email going into it. If you can’t summarize the reason for your correspondence, then you aren’t ready to write it.

Also, a subject line allows you to summarize for the recipient the gist of your email. Waste it by using a generic subject line – or none at all – and you miss a lot. Specificity helps.

Second, keep it short. This requires having thought through your key points and omitting the excess. We tend to treat email as conversation and revert to flowing, stream-of-conscious prose. Give your draft a second read and look for portions to cut or summarize. One of the core concepts in Journalism 101 is to not “bury the lede,” or inadvertently hide a story’s key sentence in the third or fourth paragraph. Begin an email with your lede.

Third, clarify what is being asked of the recipient. Do you simply want them to have this information on hand? Is it something they should weigh in on by a certain date? Do you want them to take the next step in a project? Are you spelling it out or asking them to determine it?

The fourth step is closely related because it stems from a clear grasp of key messaging: Format your email well. Make it easy to enter into and make one’s way through by using bullet points, bolding a key sentence or phrase and using adequate paragraph breaks. Formatting is a quick measure that goes a long way in boosting comprehension and retention.

Fifth, apply the headline test. Would you want your email to appear on the front page of the company newsletter? If not, delete it. Email is not a private communication.

Lastly, use a strong closing line. Boomerang, an email-scheduling service, recently shared its research on which factors contribute to a higher response rate. The researchers learned there is an optimal way to close an email: with gratitude. The sign-off “Thanks in advance” netted a 38.3 percent increase in response – the highest rate – followed by “Thanks” (a 32.6 percent increase) and “Thank you” (a 21.9 percent increase). The sign-offs “Regards” (12.6 percent) and “Best” (7.8 percent) were considerably less effective in soliciting a response.

Heed these six steps and witness the power of effective email.

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Communications based in Coralville. For more information, visit