How to up your email game: Stop annoying other people with poorly written emails

Ng Chong Seng
Lifestyle contributor
(PHOTO: Getty Images)


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All of us have been writing emails for years — but how many of us dare to say we’re good at it? Here are some common email etiquette do’s and don’ts that we think we know but are seldom put into practice.

Do have a clear and concise subject line

Like how this article has a title that tells you what the story is about, aim for an email subject line that grabs your recipients’ attention and tells them what’s inside. For instance, when I submit this article to my editor, the subject line will read, “Here’s my story on email etiquette.”

Also, don’t send an email with a blank subject line — you may miss valuable opens as a result. Worse, your recipients will feel cheated if they open the message and find out it’s nothing to do with them.

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(PHOTO: Getty Images)

Don’t treat emails like instant messages

Have you ever received an email with a subject line that goes something like, “I’m preparing for the budget presentation. Can someone retrieve the latest sell-through figures and send them to me now?” — and with an email body that says, “As titled.”?

In general, email isn’t the best tool for internal communications. To get more timely responses for such messages, you should consider using an office collaboration/messaging app such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. If you’ve been sending one-liner emails to people outside your company — it’s time to stop.

Do use an appropriate salutation

Even if the boss of the other company is your best bud, if it’s a business email, don’t start the conversation with “Hey bro!”. Maybe your friend doesn’t mind, but consider this: what if the message has to be forwarded to others?

For people you’ve been keeping in touch with, “Hello” is fine. For recipients you aren’t familiar with or if the relationship is already established to be formal, the safest way is to open with “Dear”, followed by the person’s name. And please don’t spell the name wrongly.

Don’t get confused between Cc and Bcc

Before hitting the Send button, ask yourself if all the recipients in the To and Cc (carbon copy) lines really need to receive the message. Why clutter other people’s inbox if they’ve nothing to do with the matter?

Also, when sending to multiple external parties, make sure you add the distribution list to the Bcc (blind carbon copy) field so that each recipient only sees his or her own address. Don’t take this lightly — sharing email addresses without prior consent can be considered a data breach in some countries.

Do proofread at least once

Once you’re done composing your email, don’t be in a hurry to send it off. Because a recall is embarrassing, always spend some time to proofread it. The longer or the more important the email, the more times you should re-read what you’re about to send.

In addition to checking for career-ending mistakes (like that extra zero in $10,000,000), check for common errors such as missing periods, misspelled words and names and missing attachments. Unnecessary emojis or jokes that may be taken out of context should be avoided too.

Don’t forget to include your signature

Every email should end with a signature that tells the recipients who you are and how they can contact you. For personal emails, you can get away with just your name — but for business emails, always include your title and your company’s name, address and phone number.

Now, I’m not telling you to type out all these details manually for every email. All modern email clients, including Yahoo Mail, allow you to create a personalised signature to append to emails automatically. Many support rich text too, but take care not to go overboard with the fonts and colours.

Do know when to stop

If we don’t want to read walls of text in other people’s emails, we should refrain from writing long emails ourselves, especially if they don’t help to advance the discussions.

If an email has to be long because there’s a lot of information to share, try to shorten the pleasantries and get to the point quickly. Make sure your requests are clearly stated (bold them, underline them, use bullet points — whichever works), so that your recipients don’t have to go hunting for them. Finally, if you’ve to send multiple 2-page emails to explain something, perhaps what you need instead is a meeting.

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