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6 tips to be a better email user

I could have written this 10 or 20 years ago, and it wouldn’t have been very different. But we all drift into bad habits, so here are a few tips to using email on a day-to-day basis that still stand up today. Most apply equally to customers or colleagues.

  1. Use informative, catchy subject lines: Quickly convey the purpose of the email to save recipients’ time. Consider the recipient’s perspective and keep the subject line concise. For example, avoid generic titles like “Quotation” and instead use titles like “Quotation from (your company) on (date)” to help recipients easily locate and prioritise emails. It’s often better to write the subject line after the email is complete (often the content can be copied and pasted from the body), but for those scared they’ll send the email without one, put in a placeholder subject line at the start but go back to it before hitting send.
  2. Write concise openings: Craft email openings that quickly convey the key message to colleagues who may only skim emails.
  3. Recognise the purpose of using “To” and “CC” in emails: In small companies, this can be circulated as a policy. “To” should indicate that the email directly concerns the recipient and requires their attention, while “CC” is for information purposes only. This ensures that people only read relevant emails and helps avoid unnecessary information overload.
  4. Be selective in quoting: When replying to an email, quote only the relevant parts that require context. Avoid quoting the entire previous email or including unnecessary footers and legal disclaimers from previous conversations. People keep their emails in conversation groups – they can easily see the previous email in the chain.
  5. Aim to finish conversations: Provide complete answers and avoid open-ended questions. Respond as if there won’t be the opportunity for further communication, reducing the need for additional emails and keeping email traffic levels manageable.
  6. Organize Your Inbox: Treat your inbox as a temporary space and not a to-do list. File emails requiring action into an “Action” folder and (unless you’re a search addict by default, like me) store reference material in appropriate project folders. Aim to keep your inbox empty by promptly replying or filing emails. This helps reduce clutter, ensures clear visibility, and minimises unnecessary stress caused by repeatedly reviewing the same emails.