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What is the most effective way to use email?

When used right, email is a great way to communicate without everyone needing to be in the same place or free at the same time

In the video above, Mike Dunn talks about how you can annoy the people you know by using email in ways that exploit its weaknesses rather than its strengths. Sending emails like this contributes to information overload and will mean people miss out on important messages.

Rather than annoying people, there are plenty of ways to use email thoughtfully and effectively. When used right, email is a great way to communicate with colleagues and friends without needing to be in the same place or free at the same time.

1 Is email the right (or wrong) tool for the job?

What are you trying to achieve by sending that email? If you’re looking for a quick response, an online chat service, a phone call, or a video call may work better.

A group chat tool can be useful if you need to discuss something without creating a long and confusing email chain. If your email is going to a regular update to multiple people, then a blog or social media website may work better and give more power to your recipients.

On the other hand, email is particularly good for contacting someone with information they can read and act on at a time that suits them.

2 How is your email written?

How long is your email? Where have you put the key messages or actions you want the other person to take in? Remember, people have a lot of emails to read and will skim them for the most important points.

Get quickly to the point and use concise sentences and short paragraphs, putting anything particularly important separate from the rest of the text. Keep your email short, using links to external pages where necessary.

3 Can you use the features of email to your advantage?

Give your email an accurate and concise subject. This means whoever receives it will immediately know what the email contains and can prioritise accordingly. It will also help stop that email getting lost in a sea of imprecise or empty email subjects in their inbox.

Understand the difference between ‘reply and ‘reply to all’: when an email is sent to multiple people, you can either send your reply to everyone or just to the person who sent it to you. Make sure every email is only sent to the people that it is relevant to, so you’re not wasting people’s time (and in return, they should hopefully try to avoid wasting your time by not sending you irrelevant emails either).

4 Should you really press send?

Emails are very easy to send on impulse. They’re not so great to delete or amend when you realise you made a mistake, missed something off, or even said something that, on reflection, could have been put a bit more politely or calmly.

Before you click ‘send’, check that you’re sending it to the right person and that you’ve thought about whether you should be sending that message at all.

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