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How to Write Better Emails

Have you ever counted the number of business emails you get in a day? The average working person receives about 121. As a professional meeting planner, you probably get even more.

Email eats up a lot of time, so anything you can do to shave off a few seconds or minutes for each one you write can turn into some significant timesaving at the end of the day.

For example, if you send 60 emails a day and spend one minute less on each by writing shorter emails that take less time to write and to proofread, you could gain an hour a day, five hours a week. Shorter emails also tend to have better response rates, which will save you from having to resend an important message or pick up the phone.

Here are five ways to improve your emails, communicate more clearly and save precious time.

Write better subject lines.

Often, I get emails with this subject line: “Hello.”

The sender just missed a huge opportunity to grab my attention. An email subject line is like a billboard along a busy highway: It has seconds and a few words to grab attention and deliver important information. Pack as much detail as possible into the recommended 60 characters or fewer. For example, if you need a quick bid for an upcoming meeting, say, “Bid needed by Oct. 1 for Nov. 15-17 board meeting.” (49 characters). If including your organization’s name would get a quicker response, add it. If a mutual acquaintance referred you to this person, say that: “Referred to you by Vickie Mitchell.”

Write shorter emails.

Just as you did in your subject line, pack as much information into as few words as possible in the body of your email. Take a page from people who study response rates to marketing emails. They found that the average marketing email is 434 words, which takes 3.3 minutes to read. Shorten that to 150 words and recipients will be more likely to read your missive and respond. Remember editor William Strunk’s advice in “The Elements of Style”: “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” By the way, Strunk practiced what he preached; his book is only 85 pages long. And if you are wondering how long 150 words is, this section is 146 words.

Keep it simple.

If you decide to use some fancy-pants font, like Chalkboard, someone out there will be rolling their eyes and probably taking you a little less seriously. Pick a readable font. The top five fonts for email are Georgia, Verdana, Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS and Arial, according to the “Ultimate Guide to Email Typography.” If you make any changes in your email preferences, perhaps bump the type size a bit. Remember that 75% of adults in America wear glasses or contacts. Give their eyes a break. The same goes for elaborate signatures, although, please, include a signature: Your name, company name, title, preferred phone numbers and a website are always nice, especially if you are contacting someone for the first time. Never type in all caps, and always use black text. It’s simple, elegant and readable.

Don’t sweat the signoff.

I used to worry about how I signed off on my emails. Was “best” too hokey? Probably. Are my regards all that warm? Not really. I’ve read long debates about parting words, and in the end, here’s my conclusion: Nobody really cares or has time to worry about this. Your signoff is probably the least important thing about your email; keep it simple and move on. How about a sincere “Thank you for your time,” or simply, “Thank you!” The same goes for greetings. I often use “Good morning, Bill,” realizing that my recipient might not read my email until the afternoon. Do they care?  At least they know I was up and at my desk in the a.m.

Beware of email errors.

Again, start at the top. Did your email software inadvertently pop in Judy, your cousin, instead of Judy, your caterer? Did you write an informative subject line? Do you need to copy anyone on this email? Or did you overdo it on the cc’s and bcc’s? Copy only those who really need to be in the loop. If this is an ongoing email discussion, is the string getting a little unwieldy, or has the topic changed? It might be time to start a new email conversation with a fresh subject line. And finally, did you give your email a quick read, looking for typos as well as ways to make it shorter and sharper. Your recipients will be glad if you do.