Writing effective and professional email

Subject line

An effective email starts with a good subject line: straightforward, accurate, short and simple.

Good: Royal Ball Run for Autism is Sunday
(I now know what the email’s about plus what day the event takes place.)

Not as good: Help autistic kids
(Avoid giving people commands.)

Not as good: Would you like to help autistic kids?
(Avoid asking rhetorical questions.)

Subject lines should not be cute (Do YOU like pizza?) or misleading (Win a puppy!). That leads people to avoid opening your email, because nobody likes to be fooled. It also can cause people to mark an email as spam.

The most effective subject lines sometimes include a benefit. “Admissions needs volunteers” is OK, but how about, “Admissions volunteers will get a free lunch”?

Body text

Text should be clean and easy to read. Plainer is better.

Changing type sizes and fonts within your message, using lots of colors, background images/colors and reversed text makes it harder for someone to quickly read and digest the contents of the message.

Use a single font that’s large enough for readability. Stick with black text on a white background.

Avoid using all caps. No one likes to be YELLED at.

Avoid underlining text. It’s confusing; readers may think it’s a hyperlink to more information on a web page.

The best technique for emphasis, used judiciously, is boldface.

Avoid centering text. We are used to reading text that is justified on the left. As we read, our eyes automatically go back to the left. If text is centered, the eye must find the left end point anew on every line.

Message

Get to the point right away. Your first sentence or sentences should cover what journalists call the 5 Ws: who, what, when, where and why.

Example: “All students are invited to a party on the lower Quad at 7 p.m. on July 4 to celebrate the holiday, sponsored by OSA.”

It’s not effective to open the email with a rhetorical question.Someone writing to tell you about a shoe sale wouldn’t start out with, “Do you like shoes?” Better to start with a sentence like, “My shoes are on sale this week at 50 percent off.”

Try to present complete information. Important details may include: cost to attend, deadline to register, rain location, etc.

Keep your audience in mind. Unless your audience is quite narrow (e.g., your academic department or the chess club) avoid using lingo or jargon not everyone will understand.

Photos and graphics

Photos or graphics can add value to your message. However, remember that not everyone will have photos “turned on” and so not all recipients will see them. Any important information in the graphic must be repeated in the text.

Simply embedding a photo in an email, without any accompanying text, is not a good way to convey information.

Use photos or graphics if:

  • They are pertinent.
  • They are yours to use — not copyrighted.
  • They are sized properly for your email. A good rule of thumb would be no more than 400 pixels wide.

Contacts

Every email should contain the name and email address of at least one person who can be contacted for more information or to answer questions.

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