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5 tips to improve your email writing skills

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Posted: 
February 12, 2018
Written by: Catherine Haggerty

We’ve all been there. You click open an email, and there’s a long block of text that stretches beyond where you can see. Your first reaction is to close the window and flag the email for later. Much later.

Email can be a useful communication tool, but not everyone uses it well. Below are 5 steps to follow in order to draft an email that readers will open, read and understand.

1. Maintain your credibility

Present yourself as the trusted professional you are.

 
  • Be polite: say please and thank you as appropriate
  • Keep a professional tone: avoid slang, exclamation marks, and smiley faces
  • Use a suitable greeting and opening, but avoid insincere small talk
  • Include a suitable sign-off that fits the tone of the email
  • Keep your email signature simple and short: limit images and avoid cursive fonts
  • Don’t use too many high importance flags

2. Present your email thoughtfully

Give the right amount of information in the right way so that your reader is able to read your message easily, and wants to.

  • Place your key message and call to action near the top so it’s the first thing your reader sees
  • Organize the rest of the information from most to least important
  • Limit the number of issues covered in the email to increase the chance of a response 
  • Write briefly and stick to the point: try to keep to 150 words or less
  • Use short, everyday words instead of jargon and difficult words
  • Avoid acronyms and terms your reader won’t understand
  • Keep sentences short

3. Help your reader scan

We don’t read content onscreen word for word. In fact, most of us scan a web page in an F-shaped pattern. Use layout and formatting to guide your reader through the email and to your key points.

  • Put your key message and call to action at the top
  • For a longer email with a lot of details, use headings
  • Write in easy-to-read chunks: use short paragraphs and lists with bullets or numbers
  • Don’t use too much bold; if you emphasize too many words, you end up emphasizing nothing
  • Avoid all caps, huge fonts and random colours; these slow the reader down

4. Write your subject line last

Your subject line could determine whether your reader opens your email. Make it count.

  • Write the subject line after drafting your message
  • Use action verbs so the reader knows what you want done
  • Be specific and descriptive so the reader knows right away what the message is about
  • Appeal to the reader’s needs: ask yourself what will make the reader care about your email
  • Avoid starting a sentence in the subject line and finishing it in the body
  • Keep your subject line under 50 characters or 6 to 8 words, so the whole line will show in the inbox preview
  • Keep in mind that some smartphones show only 33 to 44 characters for the subject line

5. Review and revise

Imagine that everyone in the company will read your message. Emails are quick to create, but leave a lasting impression. Review your work now to save time and get results later.

  • Use the spell-check feature to reduce errors
  • Read the message backwards to check for errors that a spell-checker won’t catch, like homonyms and usage errors
  • Check that your key message is perfectly clear, without typos, wordy phrases, or anything that can be misunderstood
  • Check that all names and titles are correct
  • Make sure you have attached any important files or included any necessary links

Do you have a useful tip for effective email writing not included here? Please share it in the comments.

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

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About the author

Catherine Haggerty

An editor and web publisher at Info-Tech Research Group, Catherine has been in the field of copy-editing for over 10 years. Passionate about grammar and syntax, she frequently uses the Language Portal's quizzes and Peck's English Pointers to keep her skills sharp.

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Great

We need examples.

Hi, Saleem,
It would be difficult to provide examples, because most of the points made in this post need to be tailored to individual email messages. However, I encourage you to read our article entitled “Boost Your eQ (Email Intelligence)” (http://www.btb.termiumplus.gc.ca/tpv2guides/guides/pep/index-eng.html?la...), which is also about writing clear emails and does provides a few examples.

Hi, I want to improve my communication knowledge, so I kindly request your help.

Hello, aarthi,
The Language Portal has many resources that may be helpful. You can use our search engine, Language Navigator (https://www.noslangues-ourlanguages.gc.ca/navigateur-navigator/index-eng...), to search for “communication” or “clear communication.”

Great helpful detail.

It's very helpful for me and I want to just say that it's great information.

Email is very important for formal communication and sometimes we make some basic mistakes when writing emails. This content is really effective and will help me to write quality emails to anyone. Thanks.

Addressing emails: Always address the email sender by the same title he or she used. E.g. If the sender uses his or her name without any title, then reply without a title; if the sender used Mr. or Dr., then use that title; if the sender used a facility or organisation name, then use that.

This article has been a big help for me. Thanks, I was able to read this one.

This is fantastic! Most of my day is spent responding or initiating emails and I have never thought about the visual aspect (the F pattern), which makes a lot of sense, since graphic design is a similar process.
Well done!

All wording is correct.

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