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How To Write an Email, Part 1: The Structure


Robby

Let’s face facts: we all receive a ton of email. Much of that email is going to be scanned at best, and a lot is going to be junked right away. When you write email to someone else, how you choose to write it is going to have a tremendous impact on whether or not it gets read. The way you structure the email will also effect whether or not the recipient actually does anything.

In this series of posts, I’m going to teach you how to write email. I know, that sounds crazy. But just for fun, let’s start with a couple of examples of emails I’ve actually received that are positively awful. (Don’t worry, I’ll change the names and the details to protect the guilty.)

Here’s an email I recently received:

From: xxx@xxxx.com
To: yyy@yyyy.com
Subject: hey

Hey, I was thinking about asking you for a proposal for us. I think we could really use your help. We’re  really struggling with productivity in meetings and maybe you could help out. Also, we have NO budget so keep that in mind. Fred

There’s so much wrong with this email, it’s hard to know where to start. But I can explain the overall problem: this message has no structure.

You can tell it has no structure based on the way it was written. The subject line reads “hey.” The body is one long rambling paragraph. There’s no greeting, no  clear questions, no parameters and no direct instructions.

So here’s the overall pattern I recommend for emails:

  1. A specific, detailed subject which summarizes the entire email
  2. A greeting which addresses the recipient by name
  3. An opening to provide some context for the email
  4. Just one specific question or direct instruction to the recipient
  5. A closing sentence
  6. A complete signature

That’s the overall structure of a great email. Feel free to share examples of structure-free, awful emails in the comments!

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About the Blogger: Robby Slaughter is a productivity speaker and expert. He is a principal with a AccelaWork, an Indianapolis consulting firm.

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Fri, June 17 2011 » Technology Tips

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