How to Write Effective Email

Productivity Oct 20, 2020

There isn't a more dramatic love/hate relationship in professional communication than we have with emails. There are at least a dozen emails we all regret hitting "send" without looking over one more time.

As Tim Urban said before, not having an email today would be the equivalent of not having a phone number. Everything goes through email. But more importantly, email is how we communicate for work. It is the lowest common denominator for every working professional in the world to communicate.

This is why we all need to be writing effective emails. Writing better emails allows us to do more things with less time (fewer threads) and keep our minds focused on important things.

Throughout my career with IBM and Walmart, and now with Hyperinbox as a founder, I've read tens of thousands of emails that could have been written better. I've written emails that I wish I could take back and write them again.

From my learnings on email, I have two pieces of advice on writing better emails. Aside from fundamental grammar and formatting, these two learning points have served me well thus far in handling email communication.

I've also read others' take on writing better emails. There are literally guides, books, lectures, and seminars on how to write a good email. You can look at them, but I think at the core of any communication, the most important factor to consider is putting yourself in the shoes of your audience. Hence, the two ways of writing an effective email:

  1. Brevity and cutting through the chase
  2. Communicating your agenda/goal in the email

Brevity is a sign of respect. Get to the point.

Many people tend to write lengthy introductions before they talk about why they're sending the email in the first place. They usually start with a greeting, then assures they hope you're doing well, talk about the weather, then go through a whole bunch of B.S. before they finally write the ask.

COVID-19 version.

As a busy founder, and this goes for any professional, email has become too much of a distraction, and all we want at the end of the day is a clear, empty inbox! And these fluffy opening statements don't help.

Keeping your messages short, concise, and straight to the point is a show of respect. You’re mindful of the reader's time. You are putting yourself in the shoes of your reader. Your reader doesn't want to read all of that opening statement. She just wants to get to the point.

If you respect other's time, send a concise email. Keep it short. You don't need "hope you're doing okay" or "how are you doing?" added to your email every time. I've also seen "I know you're a busy guy" or "since we know you're busy with everything." These are formalities that satisfy no one.

We include those as a courtesy and because we don't want to sound rude. But I would rather read a cold but short and concise email than go through a 300-word heart-warming essay.

Here's an example:

To: chris@pixelic.io
From: james@company.com
Subject: (subject untitled)

Dear Chris,

Hi! I know you're busy, so I'll make this quick.

How are things? I’m currently working in Chicago and it’s been great! Summer is coming, so can’t complain too much about the chill weather right now.

Anyways, I’ve been meaning to ask you for an introduction to John Doe from Company X I found him on LinkedIn, and it seems you are well connected to him! 

I’m working on a new project and I think John could help me out on X.Let me know if I could be of help with anything!

All the best,

James

VP of Marketing | Company X
Email: james@company.com
Phone: +1 (650) 123-1234
LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter

What if you can trim all of this down to this:

To: chris@pixelic.io
From: james@company.com
Subject: Intro request

Chris, can you introduce me to John Doe at Company X? I found him on LinkedIn and seems he can help me out on a project I'm working on.

Here's how you can trim your email:

  1. Write shorter sentences.
  2. Stay away from fluffy, ambiguous words
  3. Talk direct.
  4. But don't be an asshole - you do want to write long whenever necessary. Know when to write long.

Communicate your agenda clearly.

Naval Ravikant, co-founder of AngelList, has a great template for rejecting meeting requests. Let's admire his template for a few seconds:

Hey {{ first_name }},

Just want to be upfront. I don’t do non-transactional meetings. I don’t do meetings without a strict agenda.I don’t do meetings unless we absolutely have to.

Naval

Although I admit my heart would start pounding if I ever receive an email like this from him, this is how strict people should be about protecting their time and focus as they are finite resources that can be only used a set amount each day.

And the fact that I'm thinking my heart will pound if I ever get Naval's email tells me that I shouldn't be asking for things without setting a clear agenda for the requests that I make through email.

To be effective and get the most out of your emails, always clarify what you're looking for. Be clear about your motives. Outline what's in it for the reader as well.

Another part of communicating your agenda clearly is to write the "so what" before anything. Here's an example, though not an email:

This is Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook post a few months ago, calling that health workers need more protective gear. See how he started his "so what" first and then laid out the details? This is what effective communication looks like.

In your email, do the same: write the "so what" first, and then lay out the details that support your point.

--

If you are remote, and want a universal inbox that integrates with all of your daily apps (Figma, Slack, Github, Jira, Asana, etc.), join the Hyperinbox waitlist. And follow us on Twitter, @hyperinboxapp!

Tags

Christopher Chae

Co-founder at Hyperinbox. Loves 🍕 and ☕️.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.