By Alyssa Gregory

How To Streamline E-mail Communication

By Alyssa Gregory

How much time do you spend managing e-mail every day? If you’re like me, you may feel like it’s too much time, even if you have the process nailed down. It seems e-mail can be a major productivity drain, but it’s one of those elements of business that is not going away.

Not only are there certain things to avoid in following e-mail etiquette rules, but there are things you can do to streamline your messages even more. And this will not only save yourself time and energy, but it will make reading and responding to your messages easier for your recipients. Here are some ideas.

Make It Easy to Follow


As much as we try to keep e-mails short and to the point, some need the bulk and there’s no way around it. One way to make your longer messages easier to follow is by using subheads and bulleted lists to break up the text. This also helps the reader zero in on the most important topics and gives them a way to jump to a specific part of the long e-mail later on. See the example below of straight text compared to being broken up by subheads and bullets.

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Identify Action Items

Clearly identify specific action items and questions for the recipient by highlighting, numbering or marking them in some other easy-to-notice way (keep in mind that the e-mail client used by your recipient may not support all options). Not only will this help the recipient keep track of what actions they need to take or questions they need to answer, but it will help you get a more complete response on the first reply.

Use Attachments When Necessary

If the information contained in the e-mail message is especially long or would benefit from special formatting, make it an attachment. While you certainly don’t want to overuse attachments because they create more steps for relaying information and can easily get misplaced, it can be an effective way to provide in-depth information via e-mail.

Stick to the Subject

While this may seem like an obvious one, you may find you get quicker responses when you include a descriptive and accurate subject line and stick to that subject in the body of the message. If you plan to send brief information on 2-3 topics, write a subject that specifies that. For example, “Meeting” vs. “Meeting Minutes and Next Week’s Meeting Time.”

Include a Call to Action

Almost every e-mail requires the recipient to do something. Make your last subheading in your message the call to action, specifying what will happen next. Do you need a response by a certain time? Do you need the recipient to let you know their availability for a meeting? Will you be calling her to follow up later in the week? State your request right before your closing and it will be the last sentence in the recipient’s mind, encouraging and reminding them to act.

What tips do you have for streamlining e-mail?

  • israelisassi

    Good article. Something most of us should be reminded of periodically.

  • Anonymous

    Those are great ideas. I also use alias mailing addresses and when they download to outlook I filter them to different incoming mail boxes. That lets me priorities buy Email address. Those that I need to work now and those I can look at later. Plus some of the email I know what they are asking about so I can auto respond to them.

    Just another thought.
    On Line Green Belt Coaching

  • I tend to separate my text out a fair bit in emails. Rather than have a big block of text I will leave white lines. It is a lot more manageable to read this way and I am more confident that the recipient will ‘get’ the point behind my email.

  • As you say, “As much as we try to keep e-mails short and to the point, some need the bulk and there’s no way around it.”, I think about how when I get really long emails, 90%+ of the time I just delete them. It is my opinion, in regards to email or website pages, if the person viewing them doesn’t like what they see in the first 1 second, they are gone, and more than likely won’t be coming back.

  • As well as the call to action at the end, I’ll point it out in my intro paragraph too, much like an essay thesis. The intro paragraph should also mention the timeframe for the recipient to take action, like “tomorrow”, “May 29th”, “in your dreams” etc.

    Here are the next things for you to work on in order to get the prototype off the ground this week. Also please let me know if it is 1.2 Jigawatts or 2.1 Jigawatts required to run the machine, Fly McMarty needs to know before tomorrow.

  • LOL @fishoutoforder. Always appreciate a Back To The Future reference Wendy. :-)

  • Please add:

    Use a salutation instead of just starting in on the email. If the email deserves the recipient’s attention, then the recipient ought to be identified in the email.

    Use line and paragraph breaks if you want the recipient to take your email seriously. Yes, this applies even if you are emailing from a Blackberry or some such device. The fact that you are using a specific device is not your recipient’s problem.

    Give sufficient details so that your recipient can answer without having to ask for more information. A smart recipient who manages his email well will train senders to do this by first, delaying a reply, then sending a detailed query for additional information, while highlighting that the reply would have been forthcoming except for the sender omitting the required information. For example, “my account isn’t working” does not get a reply other than “what is your login?”. This might be followed on the *next* email by, “what specific problem are you having?”. This can go on ad infinitum if the receiver is of a mood to really drive the lesson home.

    Don’t ask your respondents to respond to whitelist challenge emails. Some respondents will not under any circumstances accept the terms of service of any of the whitelisting services. Get over it. If you truly want an answer, whitelist the respondent address yourself.

  • Great post! Just wanted to let you know you have a new subscriber- me!

  • India’s Property

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  • Anonymous

    “The medium is the message” as Marshall McLuhan would say.

    An email message can be interpreted much differently than a voice mail message. I’m sure everyone has heard how body language and tone of voice can account for something like 70 to 80% of the message. (Personally I think this percentage can be far more or less, depending on the subject matter. Think of the difference between stating scientific data versus flirting with a potential mate).

    For effective communication, choose your medium wisely. You may need to spend a lot more time re-wording things so they are interpreted properly in an email, which would be unnecessary if you picked up the phone… see Email Versus Productivity.

  • Julian

    Great post. I`m a new subscriber too !

  • Hi, good post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting.

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