Winning email is well-mannered email. Some are born with manners,
some have manners thrust upon them, but all must have manners. As
manners are cross-cultural, what is considered good manners in one
culture may be impolite in another (e.g. informal salutations such
as “Hi Peter!” may be acceptable in an email to an American
professor, whereas it would be considered overly familiar and therefore
rude to an Asian professor). To minimise cross-cultural rudeness,
be as cosmopolitan as possible, buy a handbook for international
(or national) etiquette, err on the side of politeness, and/or be
formal until told otherwise by the recipient of your email.
Features of Winning Email
- Accurate, concise, witty (optional) subject line: An
attention-grabbing subject line often entices the reader to open
the email whereas an insipid or dull subject line puts the reader
off. An old subject line from another email thread is misleading;
the reader might miss the new email, dismissing it as more of
the same old chain.
- Correct salutation: Be courteous: spell someone’s
name correctly. Taking the trouble to find out what others are
called shows you are polite, respectful and careful. To mis-spell
someone’s name, if it was written down for you before, is
unforgivable, betraying your sloppiness.
- Good body: The ideal email should fit onto one screen.
If the email is more than a couple of sentences, include sub-headings/numbered
paragraphs so that the reader can quickly scan through the main
points. Reading an email should take no longer than writing one.
Remember: time is precious, especially when you have little time,
lots of email and even more work.
- Politeness markers: Learn how to use politeness markers.
These differ from language to language. However in English, the
most common are:
- For making requests: “Perhaps I could trouble
you for…”; “May I ask for...”; “Do
you think it is possible to …”; “I am sorry
to bother you but I need…”; “If you would
be so kind (to do xxx), I would be grateful.”
- For expressing disagreement: “If I may just
point out...”; “Can I take you up on…”;
“If I understood correctly you said…can I offer
an alternative view…”; “That’s very
interesting, I have never heard it said like that before.”
- For correcting someone: “Perhaps I didn’t
express myself very clearly, let me rephrase myself…”;
“Sorry if I didn’t get my meaning across, what
I meant to say was…”; “Could I put it another
- Complimentary close: Like a letter, you must sign off
your email, and how you sign off depends on how well you know
the person and what sort of email is being sent. Just as you would
never sign off intimately in a business letter (e.g. use “Lots
of love”), you wouldn’t be so casual in a formal email
- Signature address: Be polite and give as many contact
details (e.g. snail mail address, phone and fax numbers) as possible
so that the reader can contact you in different ways. For instance,
if the reply to your email is very long or complicated, the recipient
may prefer to send you a letter or phone you instead. Certainly,
a reader is reassured that you are not some cyber nut if you include
your full contact details. They might think you were mad, bad
and dangerous to know if all they have is a return email address,
especially if your email address is ambiguous (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Absence of weird whacky stuff: Whacky stuff means weird email
monikers, personal philosophies, political/religious quotations
and/or pictures made up of little crosses. These are fine for
personal email to friends who know you, but are truly off-putting
for other readers, especially if it is a business email. It is
also extremely discourteous to force your personal sentiments
on unsuspecting strangers. Do you want the email that took you
effort to write to lose out in the end because you inadvertently
offended the recipient?
In short, winning email has FACE:
F—face or respect for the reader;
A—accuracy in spelling, punctuation and
C—courtesy, coherence, correctness and
conciseness in the language of the email;
E—e-manners in the subject, salutation,
complimentary close, signature block of the email.