There are six key key components to properly structure business Email messages. These will help you to clearly express your ideas and improve your communication with recipients.
Ever get an Email message that is a jumbled mess? Messages that are confusing, meandering, complicated, or just plain bad.
You know the one…
- The subject line has nothing to do with the content….
- The Email goes on and on for page after page...
- It looks like a non-stop “wall of words”...
- The message bounces from topic to topic...
- Often with many different people responding to different topics...
- With unnecessary people copied for no apparent reason...
Quality and structure problems with Email messages are major contributors to Email Overload.
Although Email is easy to use and is a effective and efficient communication tool, it is also easily misused and abused.
Unfortunately, good business communication skills are often forgotten when it comes time to structure business Email messages. Many people that would never distribute a poorly worded corporate memo routinely fire-off badly composed Emails.
So, what is the best way to ensure you compose structured Email messages?
First, understand the six key components to structure business Email.
The six key components to structure business Email:
- Subject Line
Now, let’s review each of these in a bit more detail.
- Make the subject line clear, concise, and meaningful.
- It should summarize, not describe.
- Avoids one-word descriptions (e.g., Important, Help, or Urgent).
- Change the subject line if it is vague, messy, or not related to the message.
- Use Subject Line Hashtags as a way to standardize Subject Lines and provide key information such as purpose and urgency.
- For short messages, use subject line only message ending with “EOM” (shorthand for "end-of-message").
- Bad Subject Line: “Re: Re: Re: Need to talk about change”.
- Good Subject Line: “Important: Project Orion Timeline Acceleration”.
The subject line highlights the importance of an Email and the key information or topics within the message.
Greeting (or 'hello'):
- Use the addressee’s name and title if it is a formal message.
- Follow institutional protocols for the use of greetings.
- Casual business communications do not always need a formal greeting - they can often just list the recipient names.
The greeting makes your first impression - ensure you identify people cordially and properly!
- Clearly and concisely explain the purpose, question or issue.
- One or two sentences at most - you will add the necessary detail below.
- Avoid Emails that span more than one topic or request, unless they are closely related or linked.
The Intro/Purpose provides a summary of the issue or request. By reading the intro, the recipient understands the context of the detail to follow.
- Provides the necessary background or supporting detail.
- Limit yourself to several bullet points or a few, short paragraphs.
- Only provide the minimum information needed to explain the issue or ask the question.
- Ensure you provide brief explanation of the five key questions; What? When? Where? How? Why?
- If you need more then a page of detail, consider attaching the detail in a Word document or set a meeting to discuss.
- When the Email has a file attachment, ensure you refer to it in the message, what it contains, and any actions needed.
- Be polite, professional, and respectful when presenting issues or asking questions.
- Avoid sarcasm, jokes, humor, or tone that can be misinterpreted.
The Detail/Body provides the background information about the issue or needed to help answer the question. If there is too much information to convey in a page, consider if another type of communication or even a formal meeting is more appropriate.
- Provide a specific call for needed action.
- State the response or action you want to receive.
- Ensure you are clear about exactly “who” needs to perform “what”.
- If there are deadlines, provide the "when" prominently to the recipients.
The Ask/Action is one of the most important components of the Email message and where you state exactly what you are looking to get, from whom, and by when. Unfortunately, it is often omitted or not well defined.
- Uses phrases or words conveying respect and formality (e.g., “Sincerely,” “Best regards,” “Best”).
- Include signature lines that contain helpful contact information.
- Follow institutional protocols for use of closings/sign-offs.
- Casual, routine business communications often do not use formal sign-offs.
The Sign-off is where you provide a courteous "thank you" for assistance and provide required contact information.
Ensure you structure business Email messages following these six key elements. You will improve your ability to quickly and reduce the chance that your message will be misunderstood or not responded to at all!
By taking a bit of extra time up-front when composing an Email, you will save yourself a lot of time, repetition, and miscommunication down the road.
If you like to use acronyms to remember things, try to remember:
- "SHIDAC” - Subject / Hello / Intro / Detail / Action / Closing
(If you can come-up with a better acronym, please feel free to suggest one, this is the best I could come up with using these terms!)