How to write an e-mail message

How do you write an effective e-mail message that your recipient finds clear and easy to understand? There is more to it than typing a few words and clicking the Send button. These notes give guidelines on technical issues, document structure, the importance of knowing your audience, language issues, and layout and visual design.

Technical issues

A clear distinction between technical issues and content issues does not exist. For practical purposes, that is not important. Typically, there are no rights and wrongs; you just need to be aware of the options available and the implications of your choices:

Document structure

Although an e-mail message is usually a short document, you can structure it to improve its effectiveness. In particular, consider these points:

Know your audience

As with all communications, you need to understand your readers' requirements. You do not need to spend a long time thinking about this for each e-mail message, but consider the following things:

Language issues

Some people think that e-mail is informal. Whether it is formal or informal is not important. Bad writing makes a bad impression. Frequent errors include the following things:

Layout and visual design

Make the document easy to read:

Example of HTML in a plain text reader

This e-mail message was sent to me a while ago. My e-mail system is set up for plain text e-mail. Usually, a HTML e-mail appears as an attachment, but in this case the underlying HTML code appeared as text.

<TABLE cellSpacing=2 cellPadding=2 width=696 border=0> <TBODY> <TR> <TD class=Arial12Black width=137 bgColor=#ffffff> </TD> <TD class=Arial12Black width=401 bgColor=#ffffff> <P align=center><STRONG><FONT color=#ff0033>FAO: Mike Unwalla @ Techscribe </FONT></STRONG></P> <P align=center><STRONG><FONT color=#ff0033>24 Spooner Road South Yorkshire S10 5BN</FONT></STRONG></P> <P align=center><STRONG><FONT color=#ff0033>Tel. 0114-266 6933 Fax. </FONT></STRONG></P> <P align=center><STRONG><EM><FONT color=#ff0000 size=4></FONT></EM></STRONG> </P></TD> <TD class=Arial12Black width=136 bgColor=#ffffff> </TD></TR> <TR> <TD class=Arial12Black width=23 bgColor=#ffffff><B><FONT color=#000066 size=5><IMG height=57 src='http://www.centralcontracts.com/email/centralcontracts.gif' width=128></FONT></B></TD> <TD class=Arial12Black width=387 bgColor=#ffffff> <P align=center><B><FONT color=#000066 size=5> Toyota Corolla T3 1.6 VVT-I 3 door </FONT></B></P></TD> <TD class=Arial12Black width=119 bgColor=#ffffff><B><FONT color=#000066 size=5><IMG height=57 src='http://www.centralcontracts.com/email/centralcontracts.gif' width=128></FONT></B></TD></TR> <TR> <TD class=Arial12Black width=700 bgColor=#ffffff colSpan=3> <P align=center><IMG height=90 src='http://www.centralcontracts.com/email/ToyotaCorolla.jpg' width=150></P> <P align=center>3 Yr/60000 Warranty, ABS + EBD, Air Conditioning, CD Player, Electric Front Windows, Electric Mirrors, Front Fog Lamps, Immobiliser, Outside Temp Gauge, PAS, Remote Central Locking </P></TD></TR>

E-mail resources

For help with writing e-mail newsletters, ezines or e-flyers, contact:

Chantal Cornelius, Apple Tree (www.appletreeuk.com)

See also

What to call your e-mail recipient

Work Etiquette's Written Communication section (www.worketiquette.co.uk/WrittenCommunicationCategory.html)

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