Treating the symptoms of bad email

Donna McTavish
Treating the symptoms of bad email

It’s the communication tool of choice in business, but the truth is that everyone’s inbox is overflowing and nobody wants to receive more email. The average email user gets 147 messages per day and deletes 71 (48%), so it’s fair to say that there is fierce competition for attention being waged in inboxes every day. 

Some days it’s not just the volume of email that’s the problem; it seems that there is also an epidemic of badly written email out there. Symptoms may result in losing clients or colleagues, or damaging personal reputation or professional relationships.

Thankfully, the treatment is simple.


Treatment #1: Get to the point

Everyone’s time is precious so don’t take their attention for granted. Think like a journalist: put the important information/request/action at the beginning and not buried in the final paragraph.

SEE ALSO: Impressions endure: 5 ways to build reputation


Treatment #2: White space is your friend

Bullet points and short paragraphs (4 to 5 lines) are easier to skim read and judicious use of headings and bold type can effectively draw attention to important points.

If you have to include a lot of supporting information, consider attaching it as a separate document and focus the email on the action required.


Treatment #3: Respect your reader

Don’t leave it up to the recipient to decide what action is needed, make it clear. Anticipate the questions that you might receive and answer them.

And use the copy/blind copy and reply/reply all options carefully: only send your message to the people who need to read it and remember to use blind copy to preserve anonymity when sending a mass email.


Treatment #4: Make the subject line count

Write detailed subject lines. Instead of vague phrases like “Meeting next week” say “Agenda items for Q1 budget meeting needed.”

EOM (end of message) is a very useful tool to signal that the whole message is in the subject line.


Treatment #5: Think twice before pressing ‘send’ 


There’s a reason why emojis are so popular (a picture is worth thousand words, right?), but they’re not appropriate in a formal business email. 

So, consider having someone else ‘tone test’ your message, especially if it’s sensitive, or leave it overnight and read it with fresh eyes before you send it.

On a similar note, have you ever hit ‘send’ before you’re ready to? Avoid that sinking feeling and fill in the address line only when you have checked and re-checked the message.


Treatment #6: Beware autocorrect

We all know the perils of autocorrect (and spell cheque), don’t we?! Responding to email on your phone or tablet raises a different problem.

Typing an email on a phone or tablet encourages brevity which can lead to embarrassing and unprofessional typos and autocorrects. You can use a signature (‘Sent from my iPad, apologies for any clumsy typing’) as a blanket apology pre-emptively, but it’s safer to not use your phone for email at all if possible.

SEE ALSO: Impressions endure: 5 ways to build reputation


Donna McTavish

Donna McTavish helps individuals and businesses to find their voice by focussing on their English language skills. She is also a business writer and editor and director at


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