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Email Reminders–Pass Them On

Because of our new online Email Intelligence class, the topic of efficient email is always on my mind. Here are a few reminders that came up in email classes recently. Workshop participants wish everyone would follow them. Please pass them on.

1. If you use Outlook and want to invite people to an event, use the Outlook calendar–not email. When you send people a meeting request, they can accept the request without having to take any extra steps to add the event to their calendars.

I have been recommending this tip for years, but a recent class attendee reminded us of its importance: She had invited coworkers to a shower for an employee. Unfortunately, turnout was low because people did not pay attention to the email invitation. A meeting request would have prevented that situation and filled the party room.


2. It is efficient to use the subject line for a one-line message such as “Dr. Mendez Has Arrived” or “Lunch Orders Due at 10 A.M.” But using the subject line for a long sentence drives email readers crazy. Don’t do it!

3. Be sure your email subject and message match. In a class last week, a participant said he felt misled whenever the subject suggested something other than what followed in the email.

4. Always include a subject. After giving this advice for years, I omitted the subject on an email to eight people last week. What a humbling mistake! Here is how it happened: The file I had attached had the same name as the subject I would have used. So when I checked the email before sending it, I saw the right words–they just weren’t on the right line (the subject line), as I had thought.

5. Include your phone number. People outside the company dread having to dig up phone numbers when they don’t appear at the bottom of an email. Whenever I have to track down a phone number to follow up, it irks me. So please include your phone number in your signature block or in a closing sentence.

6. Don’t cc someone’s manager to get action. A woman told a story of a consultant who harangued her for not responding to his earlier messages –and copied her boss on the message. He had to apologize shamefacedly to both of them when it was discovered that he had mistyped her email address on all the earlier messages.

7. Don’t harangue in email. It’s disrespectful and vulgar. Beyond that, you might be wrong. (See number 6.)

What email tips would you like people to remember and pass on? Please tell us.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

6 comments on “Email Reminders–Pass Them On”

  • A couple from me, Lynn.

    >> If you’re sending a report or other long-form piece of writing, put it in an attached and handsomely formatted file. It’s easier to read, holds its formatting regardless of the recipient’s e-mail browser, and adds gravitas to your document.

    >> Remember that e-mail is company property. It is NOT private and it IS admissible in court. So think twice before creating a “paper” trail.

    >> Don’t try to be funny. Without the benefit of vocal inflections, facial expressions and body language it will likely fall flat or offend your colleagues.

  • Great tips, Lynn! I also like Mike Consol’s additions, particularly regarding humor.

    This post reminds me that it’s about time to review Lynn’s 110 Tips!

  • Hi Lynn, These are great reminders. Here’s a tip I find useful: If your subject line is too difficult to write, it’s probably because you’re trying to do too much with one email. Stick to one topic/issue per email. Sometimes that means you have to send more than one message to a recipient.

    But the benefits are first that the subject line gives a preview of the content and makes the message easier to file and retrieve. Second, you’re more likely to get a response. Sometimes when you receive an email with a laundry list of questions, you sit on it until you can respond to all the questions, not wanting to send a partial reply.

  • This is a tip for when you receive email from someone who isn’t following these great tips when they send the message.

    When I get a message with a subject that isn’t clear (e.g., “I need your help!”), I edit the subject line myself to make it clear. Then I save the message with the new subject line so that when I file it away, I’ll be able to tell what it is six months down the line.

    In Outlook, you just open the message in a new reading pane, type over what’s in the Subject line, and Save (Control+S or File>Save).

  • Hi, Mike. Thanks for the valuable tips. Let me build on yours about attachments:

    Be sure your readers can open them. Many people still use Office 2003, and they can’t open Office 2007 documents.

    Hi, Jody. You are so right about subject lines. I find that people use general subject lines when they are including too much. For example, if the subject is “New Conference Center,” the email is likely to be several screens long and cover many topics. It is much more effective to have each slice of information in a separate email.

    Hi, RJ. How efficient! I bet your inbox is empty too. I am wondering whether you ever change the email subject when you reply. I do when the person’s subject has nothing to do with the current topic

    Thanks for your reminders!


  • Hello
    These are really very nice tips which you have given and This will be really very helpful for all.Thank you very much for giving such a good information.

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