Business Writing

Talk, tips, and best picks for writers on the job.

Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Share this page

« A Lesson on "Fewer" and "Less" | Main | Write Better Executive Summaries »

May 19, 2013



Do you recommend a time delay between the two emails, each with the separate request? (I'm assuming separate emails for separate requests are your solution for Yvette and Helena).


George Raymond

I have learned to send one-subject emails for this same reason.

A related problem is obsolete subject lines: as a email thread moves from one respondent to another, often its true subject changes but the subject line doesn't. For example, a thread's subject line may remain "Meeting on June 5" long after the exchange has shown that a meeting on June 5 is impossible. I often correct the subject line, even if this breaks the thread.


It was my problem :) To cover details of different events in one e-mail. Thanks to my boss who gently explained to me this mistake.


I love this tip. I am very bad about putting several things in one e-mail. I will have to write myself a note and see if I can break up the e-mails into discrete tasks. I second ADeambrosi's question of timing between e-mails. I'm thinking a day, if you can manage it, sending them in logical order (i.e. request for bio first then when and where to show up.) When does e-mail fatigue set in?

The way I handle this, at times, is to put the most important or first thing first and bold, then go on with the rest of the steps/requests. I then follow up with reminder e-mails as dates approach. Internally, I will also put dates with tasks on calendars through task or meeting requests. I try to use as many channels as possible to help my business partners do what I need them to do easily. In fact, I've started to do this with family as well - send them meeting invites so they can put it on their electronic calendar without having to enter anything.

Great topic.

J. Venis

One email per action works, but the sheer number of emails can be as big a barrier to cooperation as a well-worded compound request.

Make the list of things to be done overt. When there are three action items, for instance, I often will put "Three action items:" in the subject line. My first paragraph repeats this message and specifies what actions I expect or am requesting. Subsequent paragraphs, if any, provide background or needed detail. If you need to provide a LOT of detail, internal headers can help to re-enforce the "threeness" of what needs to be done. Finally, close with a numbered list of things for the recipient to act upon. Yep, this is heavy-handed, but it rarely fails. Adjust your tone with humor or expressions of gratitude as required. ;-)

Helen Lawson - CoreIDServicesom

I sometimes use a bulleted list at the top of an email that requires several subjects. For example:
In this email:
* Change to meeting time
* Bios needed
* Survey questions (deadline June 14)

I've also used the heading "In this digest" followed by a bulleted list when sending out multiple announcements.

This way, people know there are multiple topics, and have just a hint of what they are.

Andreas Neustifter

I agree with J. Venis and Helen Lawson: Make sure that you enumerate whats important in the first sentence/paragraph. Also make sure what those points are throughout the text.

Then almost all readers will make sure that they figure out the two to three points in your message.

But also make sure to only combine closely related topics in your messages and do not cover more than approximately 4 to maximum 5 items.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, ADeambrosi. Good question. It depends on the circumstances, but a day might be a good time delay. For Yvette, requesting the bio first would probably work well, since it requires that the reader do something in addition to showing up at work.

If a delay does not make sense, it helps to write something like this in the first message: "I will follow up with another email about your first- and second-day schedule."


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, George. Excellent example! We would be much more efficient if everyone updated subject lines like your June 5 example.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Alyona, I am glad to know that your boss explained gently.

Thank you for commenting.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Jennifer. You are very wise to try several channels--including putting tasks on calendars.

I appreciate your framing the situation as "helping our business partners do what we want them to do." That attitude contributes to success.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, J. Venis. I also recommend the approach you use--that is, to emphasize the number of tasks in the subject, body of the email, and conclusion, with formatting to highlight essential tasks. I like it!

Still, I often find that one topic per email helps people handle the task quickly and easily. In Yvette's situation, for example, writing a bio and showing up in the correct place on the first day of work are two very different activities.

In Helena's situation, the two-pronged approach might work well. It's just that reviewing questions and scheduling a meeting are two discrete actions that require different steps to be completed.

Thanks for sharing your good advice.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Helen and Andreas. Thanks for your suggestions. My comment to J. Venis applies to your good ideas too.

The problem with having several things for readers to do is that your readers may say, "I'll get back to this message when I have time to complete the tasks." But when the message only requires them to do one thing, they can handle it immediately if they choose to.

Of course, if what you are requesting will benefit your readers, and you make them aware of that benefit, they are more likely to do what you request or require.



One thing I learned over the years when it comes to asking more than one questions in an email is to highlight them, so that they stand out.
If I have to write a mail similar to Yvette:
I would have three headings that standout (Bold, italic and different color)
1: Welcome aboard
On behalf of the company, I welcome all the new employees
2: Your itinerary for Day 1 and 2
Provide the details for both the days
3: Short Biography
Request short bio from each individual
I have used the above format successfully.
Would love to know others opinion!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Suresh. I am glad you are getting positive responses.

You might want to make small adjustments in your approach to continue to get good results. For example, if you move the request for the bio higher in the message, you are more likey to get a positive response. Requests for action that appear near the end of a message are often ignored.

Italic fonts typically do not stand out, so I don't recommend them. And sometimes colors that are used to make content prominent actually make it fade into the background.

Thanks for stopping by.



Few years ago I wrote in an e-mail to a client: "Please inform if you will send material xxx to our premises or to final location" and I received the following answer: "Yes". One e-mail to shorten time and 5 more e-mails to be sure both them and I understood what "yes" was answering!
Now I write: "Please inform if you will send material xxx to our premises", so the answer is clear.
Your blog is a good help for improving my English, thank you Lynn.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Elisa. Thank you for the wonderful example!

I am glad this blog has been helpful to you.



Hello, Lynn. I work as a tech support rep for a contact center in Asia (providing support to customers in the US) and I receive emails from Quality Assurance team regarding process updates -- like changes on our scope of support -- almost on a daily basis. I often get emails which do not clearly state "who performs which" and "what tasks are assigned to whom". Often, I would need to reply to seek clarifications and they would reply using an edited version of the original emails with the same subject, only adding "erratum" at the beginning. While this addresses my concern, it creates another confusion for my colleagues since these "erratum emails" do not provide introductory descriptions of what were changed and what were added.

I'm thinking of including a link to your blog the next time I email them so they can check on your business email tips. ;-)

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Shane. Thanks for telling your story. I suggest you talk to your main contact in Quality Assurance to explain the confusion the messages create. It's the kind of problem a conversation can often solve.

Good luck!


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Share this page
© 2005-present - Syntax Training - All Rights Reserved