Become an email pro in five easy steps
Most of us get hundreds of emails each day. We also go to meetings, do research, produce documents, make copies — and so forth. Unfortunately, this means that when we’re able to focus on our inbox, it’s often a triage exercise of deducing the most urgent items and responding to as many as possible. It’s easy for messages to be misinterpreted or slip through the cracks.
The solution? By sending concise, straightforward messages with a clear call to action, you can make it easy for your colleagues to quickly understand and act — which will make their workday and yours easier and more productive.
Tip 1: Write a clear, straightforward subject line
Your subject line should articulate the content of your message, as well as conveying any urgency.
- Subject lines to avoid: “What do you think,” “Hello,” “When you have a minute”
- Good examples: “Monthly admissions report attached,” “Please review by 6/19: President’s statement,” “Vacation request for August”
Tip 2: Keep your email body short and simple
The ideal email body is as short as possible, including: a friendly greeting, the vital information you need to share and any call to action or next steps. If the recipient needs to scroll down past one screen to understand the content, you are better off having a conversation than sending a long note that will not be carefully read.
If time differences, conflicting schedules, dispersed audiences or other limiting factors mean you must include significant amounts of text, consider:
- Supplementing your email with a phone call, in-person discussion or announcement during a meeting or conference call
- Attaching or linking to the long text
- Including a short note before the longer portion that uses the body of your email to state your expectations
Tip 3: Provide all the necessary context
Just as you can lose your readers with too much text, you can cause confusion by not providing enough actionable information. Remember that although a particular report or event may be your top priority, your colleagues might not glean vague references.
- Avoid ambiguity, such as: “Do you have any feedback on the report?”, “What did Robert say?”, “Have you made a decision?”
- Good example: Please let me know what you think about the UC Irvine diversity report that we discussed in yesterday’s meeting. (It is attached again here for your reference.)
Tip 4: Know your FYIs and CCs
The acronym “FYI” stands for “for your information” and should only be used in non-urgent situations where no action is required by the recipient. Here are a few examples of appropriate FYI use:
- FYI, there are cookies in the break room
- FYI, our caterer is giving us a discount (see chain below)
- FYI, it sounds like next week’s meeting may be canceled. See this email from Brad.
Examples of inappropriate FYI use:
- Any situation in which an action is required from the email recipient
- Forwarded email chains with buried call to actions
“CC” stands for “carbon copy.” When you CC people on an email, it is implied that you are including them for their information only. Since the point of email in the workplace is to convey a call to action or provide an important update, unnecessary CCs can become annoying. As a rule of thumb, CC only people who are on a need-to-know basis about the exchange — those whose addition you can articulate a purpose for. Call out their addition and explain why they have been added. Here are some examples:
- “I’m copying Louise, as she has worked with this team in the past and may have some insight.”
- “I’ve added Mary to this thread; she will handle the arrangements.”
- “Barry, can you please see the chain below and let us know if anything’s missing?”
Examples of when not to CC
- Saying “thank you,” “good job,” or “congratulations” to one person on a group thread
- Expressing any positive or empathetic personal sentiments about a person’s health, well-being, etc.
- Following up on something that does not concern everyone on the email thread
Tip 5: Write back!
As anyone who’s waited for a response to an important message knows, it’s no fun to wait! Be a considerate email partner by responding to your colleagues’ messages as soon as possible after you read them. Even if you aren’t sure exactly how to reply to a particular question, acknowledging receipt is the polite thing to do — and saves you both the hassle of the sender sending the same question multiple times.
Eager for more tips to improve your workplace habits? Check out the UC Learning Center, which offers a robust array of professional development courses.