Over the years, the EAB Daily Briefing team has written quite a few articles to help our readers write clearer, more effective emails. To find our readers’ favorite email tips, we used Google Analytics to rank every article we’ve written about emails by the number of page views.
Here are our 10 most read email tips, in order of reader popularity.
Tip 1: Spellcheck for these three common mistakes
When the text editing tool Grammarly analyzed its users’ data, it found that the most common grammar mistakes were misspelled words, repeated words, and misspelled names. A few easy tips for avoiding typos: read it backwards, ask a friend to review your text, and if possible, step away from the text for a few hours so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. To avoid misspelling a person’s name, copy and paste the name from a place where you know it’s spelled correctly, such as the person’s email signature or LinkedIn profile.
Tip 2: Set an email curfew
To curb excessive emails, two deans at the University of Michigan asked their team to limit email traffic to working hours (7:00 am to 6:00 pm, Monday to Friday), and to communicate face-to-face whenever possible. The policy has been so transformative that other offices and departments around campus have adopted similar policies. Not only did employees send fewer late-night emails, but they also replaced some emails with a quick chat face-to-face.
Tip 3: Get rid of fluff
Cut out filler words like “I think” and “just,” because they don’t serve a purpose other than softening your written language, Kat Boogaard wrote for Fast Company in 2017. A helpful tip is to look for commas and delete any qualifiers that come before them.
Tip 4: Make it clear what you want
When you don’t make your request clear, your reader may (unintentionally) overlook it. If it’s a question that needs a response, make that apparent right away. If it’s an informative email, be sure to explain to your readers why they should care.
To get a response, try:
- Including the type of email in the subject line;
- Bolding the names of the recipients expected to take action; and
- Stating the request at the beginning of the message, so that it appears in the preview pane.
Tip 5: Start your email with “Hey” or “Hello”
Informal email openers tend to be the most effective, according to an analysis by Boomerang. Boomerang researchers found that the most effective email openers were “Hey” and “Hello,” which each had a 64% and 63.6% average response rate, respectively.
Tip 6: Keep your emails as short as possible
Keep your emails about as short as a text message, wrote C.L. Max Nikias, president of the University of Southern California, in a 2017 Wall Street Journal article. Research has found that people are most likely to respond to messages between 50 and 125 words long. The wordier your email is, the more likely it is that you’ve included information that can be found elsewhere.
Tip 7: Treat inappropriate student emails as a learning opportunity
Administrators and faculty alike can face the awkward problem of receiving inappropriate emails from students, wrote Natascha Chtena, a University of California, Los Angeles doctoral student and TA, for Inside Higher Ed in 2015.
When you send email to students, model “professional email etiquette” to provide an example of what is expected. In other cases, “no response is the best response,” Chtena wrote. “This is especially true with angry emails, because it gives the student time to step away or, at least, calm down.”
Tip 8: Consider whether the news is better delivered in person
If you’re sending an email with a potentially sensitive subject matter, try to deliver the news in person, Gretchen Gavett wrote for Harvard Business Review in 2015. Sending an email might be ok if you have a long history with someone and are confident in how they will interpret the message, suggested Gavett. But if you feel tension building up, you should switch to another medium like phone or video chat.
Tip 9: Avoid boring subject lines
Emails tend to be more successful when the subject line is catchy, direct, urgent, conversational, mysterious, or when it poses a question. Starting your subject line with “How to…” can improve open rates by 7.5 percentage points, according to one study. Keeping the entire subject line to fewer than 30 characters and including a question mark can also boost open rates.
Tip 10: Check your email at the optimal time
To organize your day for maximum productivity, consider the natural rhythm of your energy and focus throughout the day. For most of us, our energy and mood “[follow] a common pattern: a peak, a trough, and a recovery,” writes Daniel Pink wrote in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. You should reserve routine administrative work like checking email for the trough, which comes during the early afternoon for most people.