How to send better emails

How can you write more effective emails? Expert Kim Arnold’s new book explains the ins and outs of good email practice.

Email, inbox


It is calculated that the average white collar worker spends around five hours on email every weekday, despite all the new alternative communication channels that have sprung up in recent years. A report by Radicati estimates the number of global email users will grow to 4.48 billion by 2024.

However, a new book says many of us are wasting huge amounts of time by not writing our emails in a way that delivers maximum results. Consultant Kim Arnold says it’s no surprise that we are getting it wrong because we’ve never been taught how to do it right. Her book, Email Attraction, goes back to basics.

How not to write emails

It starts with what not to do. For instance, the importance of avoiding a reflex emotional response. Instead, wait before you reply, think about the language you use and whether it could accidentally upset the recipient, imagine you are face to face with them and, in extremis, get a second more objective opinion.

Arnold argues that email is about connection and conversation so it should always be more about the recipient than the sender. That means avoiding starting by talking about yourself, for instance, ‘I’m writing to tell you about my business…’ The important thing is to consider who you are writing to, tailor the email to that person and reflect their style and think about what you want to happen as a result of you sending that email and why the recipient should care about what you are emailing about.

Arnold advises avoiding formal, stuffy language, business jargon and the passive voice [’employees are invited to participate…’] and using contractions such as it’s instead of it is and ‘us’ and ‘we’ to create a sense of connection.

Less is more

When it comes to the body of the email, Arnold argues that less is more and that emails need to be as brief as possible, making use of white space [ie not cramming several ideas into one long paragraph with lots of long twisty sentences].

She says emails should have three distinct parts:

  1. the hook [where you entice the reader in through a short attention-grabbing opening tailored to the recipient]
  2. the explanation [again be brief, include relevant information only and what is in it for the reader]. If you have several points to make, she suggests bullet pointing them and says if the information is too complex for this it may be worth a phone call instead.
  3. the call to action [including a time frame].

Other advice includes:

  • Make sure the subject line is eye-catching and, where possible, personal, not something bland and generic. Arnold describes the subject line as an ‘appetiser’ intended to get people to read your email, for instance, ‘your advice on a proposal – 15 mins max!’ or ‘quick question on slides 12-15’.
  • Don’t use reply all unless it is absolutely necessary as it simply bungs up people’s email.
  • Only follow up an email once and don’t guilt trip people. Humour can be a good idea or something along the lines of ‘I know how busy you are at the moment’. Also explain why are you are following up.
  • Check emails for typos before hitting send.

*Email attraction: get what you want every time you hit send by Kim Arnold is published by Rethink, price £12.99.

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