Guidelines on Reading, Writing, and Managing Emails

Emails are a part of our daily work life especially in the IT industry where majority of communications are through emails. Based on my experience in the IT industry on reading, writing and managing emails, I have put together a set of guidelines.
Following is a list of Guidelines on Reading, Writing and Managing Emails:
1. Attend to emails regularly and do not keep any emails unattended for more than 72 hours.
We should respond to all the emails that are addressed to us, within 24-48 hours. This is very important, since the sender might be expecting some critical information and he/she might be blocked if the required information is not provided on time.
Weekends, Vacations, Holidays, Emergencies etc. are an exception to this guideline, where the response time can go beyond 72 hours. The basic idea here is that one should attend to emails within 1-2 working days (24-48 hours) and in extreme situations within 3 working days (72 hours).
2. Use of Out of Office Replies with relevant contact and backup information.
If you are going on vacation or any other planned leaves then ensure that you set the Out of Office automated replies which includes the following information:
  (i) Contact information of your backup at work.
  (ii) Your contact information where you can be reached in case of any urgencies.
Out of Office replies should be set even if you are not in office for one working day.
3. Do not leave any meeting request unattended.
Often we send meeting requests to invite people for meetings, trainings, sessions etc. We should make sure that these invites are either Accepted, Declined, or set Tentative. In case you Decline or set as Tentative, edit the response to include appropriate justification before sending the response.
Leaving a meeting request unattended causes confusion and in certain cases where your presence is important, if the meeting goes on as per the schedule in your absence, it may not be as fruitful as expected.
4. Give an advance notice to concerned people about your upcoming vacation/leave plans.
While working in large teams especially when the team is spread across different geographical locations, there will be lot of dependencies on each other. To ensure that the operations continue smoothly, one should send out a notification about upcoming vacation/leave plans to all the concerned people so that people can plan their work/dependencies accordingly.
Send a meeting request and do not request response to this request (Uncheck the Request Responses option if you are using say Outlook 2007).
5. Use relevant and meaningful subject for all the emails.
The subject of an email is very important and should server to give some context to the recipient on what the email is about. Email subject also can help in getting necessary attention from people and get quick responses.
People might tend to ignore emails with less relevant or ineffective subjects.
It’s a good habit to have the subject something like “<<Project/Module Name>> | Title of item being discussed“.
6. Change the email subject if the topic of discussion on the email thread changes drastically.
Quite often it so happens that, when many people start responding to emails the topic being discussed in the email might change drastically and altogether a new topic might be discussed even though the original topic is logically closed. In such scenarios, one should change the subject of the email to be more relevant and should represent the topic currently being discussed.
7. Send a quick one liner text when the recipient is not reachable or if you want to give a quick heads up.
Sometimes, you might just want to give a quick heads up on behalf of your team member that he/she is not well, so he will be taking a day off. In such scenarios send a quick email with no email body and only subject with a short note something like “Datta on Leave Today (Not feeling well) “. In this scenario, ensure that the person on whose behalf you are sending the email is added in the Cc list.
Similar approach can be followed when you want to reach a person who is neither reachable on messenger (Office Communicator, Lync etc.) nor on phone. Send a quick note something like “Please ping me when you see this email. Need some information urgently.
8. Mark the emails as High Importance, Low Importance, or Normal Importance appropriately.
Quite often the emails that we send are of normal importance (Neither marked as High Importance nor as Low Importance). However, there can be a scenario where there is some very important task/item which needs attention/action from specific people then we should mark such emails as high importance.
Though everyone hates spam, there can be scenarios where you need to send an email which is not so important. For example, you asked for some information from one of your team members and he/she responded quickly to your email with required information. In this case just send a quick note something like “Thanks for the timely help 🙂“. Though this email is not important to the recipient, it goes a long way in establishing smooth relationships.
9. Keep your Reminder & Follow-up emails Soft & Polite.
Often people tend to ignore your emails, leave them unread, miss them due to their busy schedule etc. Irrespective of the scenario, you end up not getting a response to your email. In such scenarios, send a reminder email to the recipient and keep it soft and polite something like:Hello <<Recipient>>,

A soft reminder on the below email or highlighted item etc.

<<Your Signature>>

In case you are referring to the highlighted item in the below email thread, ensure that the color used to highlight the content which you are referring to is not used anywhere else in the thread else it might lead to confusion.

10. Use Smiley Faces wherever appropriate.
Use Smiley Faces while writing emails wherever appropriate. Smiley Faces though are a simple thing, they play a very important role in changing the perception of the recipient about your email. It can help put across a hard/heavy request in a polite/soft way.

However, ensure that Smiley Faces are used diligently and not too much. Also, take care to ensure Smiley Faces are used in appropriate places. Use of Smiley Faces in inappropriate places might lead to representing sarcasm even though you are not sarcastic in the email.

11. Use Sections, Bullet Points and Paragraphs to Keep the email Clean & Crisp.
An email should be short enough to cover the matter and long enough to convey the matter. Use Sections, Bullet Points and Paragraphs to keep the content clear and crisp so that the recipient can understand the message that you want to convey.

12. Ensure that the Images are not lost in subsequent responses/threads.
While including images in the email, paste them in the email to make them a part of the email body instead of attaching the file. The advantage of this approach is that, even when others reply on top of this email, the images are maintained in the email which might play an important role in conveying the required information/message.

If the images are attached as files instead of including in email body, when someone replies on top of your email, the attachment is lost and it might become difficult for others to get a better understanding of the content without the images, which were attached for the purpose of better understanding.

13. Use Inline Comments to provide Inputs/Responses to a set of Questions/Pointers.
While providing your inputs/responses to a set of questions or pointers make use of inline comments (with appropriate font style, color etc.) to make it more clear. Inline comment can be something like this:

What guidelines should be used for writing emails ?
[Datta]: I will be publishing an article on the standards/guidelines on writing emails in next couple days and you can follow those guidelines.

The above highlighted text represents an Inline Comment.

14. Mark Corrections in a Previously Sent email as appropriate.
Though, there is an option to recall a sent message in Outlook, it’s better to mark corrections instead of recalling a message. The reason being, marking corrections will help the person understand, what was the issue with previously sent email, where as recalling an email does not tell the recipient why an email was recalled.

Mark corrections with appropriate font style, color, background etc. as shown below.

I will be publishing an article on “Best Practices Guidelines on Reading, Writing, and Managing Emails”.

As shown in the above example, strike out the invalid/inappropriate text and add new text with appropriate font style, color, & background.

15. Use Bcc… field wherever required to Avoid Spam.
Bcc… field is used in many scenarios like to add yourself on the Bcc… list so that you get a copy of the email that you are sending, to send information to a broader audience etc.

Often, when you send useful information (which could be just an FYI…) to broader audience, or while requesting some information like say you are collecting the details of certifications by each of the team members in your team etc. make sure to include the intended audience in Bcc… so that even if the recipient does a “Reply All” by mistake (which is usually the case with few people), only you would get the email there by avoiding spam.

Remember to add a note at the bottom of the email indicating the list of people or distribution groups which are added in Bcc… field. This will ensure 100% transparency.

16. Loop in Additional People in case they need Visibility into the item being discussed in the email.
In case you need to loop in additional people into the previously sent email (you might have forgotten to include few people) or into an email which you just received and you feel that the additional people whom you are adding need visibility into the item being discussed in the email. Following format can be used to loop in people into the emails:

Do a “Reply All” and say + John, David, & James as they are part of Testing Team.
In the above example, John, David, & James are the folks whom you are adding to the loop and “as they are part of Testing Team” is the justification on why those people are being added.

Justification is optional but is good to include. In case you cannot think of any appropriate justification, in most cases, it is ok to say something like “+ John, David, & James for visibility“.

17. Use Email Signature with Appropriate & Useful Information.
Email Signatures are meant to provide additional information to the recipients. However, they can also be used to market yourself or your product or to publicize your skills, your team, or your organization etc. Ensure that useful information is included in the email signatures, which includes some of these common details:

(i) Contact Information – Address (Optional), Phone Number etc.
(ii) Role/Designation
(iii) Link to Company Website/Help Center
(iv) Additional Email Addresses like the etc.
(v) In case of people working in support, you can also include the SLA details etc.
(vi) Additional Information/Content – Other additional content which one can include is your favorite quote (make sure you don’t present your emotions here), your certifications/awards/accolades, company’s certifications/awards/accolades etc.

18. Do a thorough Spelling Check before sending an email.
This is the last but not the least of all the guidelines on writing emails. Ensure that proper spelling is used in the email and you have performed a thorough spell check before sending the email.

* These guidelines are written from official emails standpoint and not from personal emails standpoint.

** This list is updated as and when there is anything to be added/modified.

About Dattatrey Sindol (Datta)

Datta is a Microsoft BI Enthusiast, passionate developer, and a blogger. View Full Profile

Posted on October 4, 2011, in Best Practices, Management. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. nice article…..thanks for sharing this valuable information

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