Do’s and Don’ts of E-Mail Communication

Developing the right habits is important to success in leadership, and writing effective e-mail messages can take some practice. Here are some best practices for good communication along with several missteps that should be avoided.

Susan Harkins writes, “We’ve been using e-mail for a while now, and most of us have learned a few basic rules, such as 1) Don’t use all uppercase letters and 2) Don’t use emoticons and acronyms. Yet despite our efforts, e-mail is often ignored because we still can’t seem to agree on a few simple standards. In this article, I recommend a few habits that when adopted (or avoided) will help you communicate more effectively via e-mail.

“1: Do be succinct. Your messages should be short and to the point.

“2: Do use meaningful subjects. Using a meaningful subject will increase the chances that recipients will act in a timely manner. The best subjects are action-oriented, providing a synopsis of what the recipient needs to do. For instance, the subject Project Meeting isn’t nearly as meaningful as Project Meeting: Need your agenda points. You can’t abuse this power though; recipients will learn to ignore you if you bluff them with too many dramatic subject lines.

“3: Do organize. When you must include a lot of information or make several inquiries, organize that information in a meaningful way:

  • Put the most important information first.
  • List subsequent items in order of their importance or time sensitivity.
  • If you have several action items or questions, format each as a separate line or a bulleted list to make it easier for your recipient to respond.
  • If the message is going to multiple recipients, bold corresponding names for action points and questions.

“Keep in mind that the longer your message is, the less likely the recipients are to respond or act upon the information (see #1).”

Read on for more communication tips.