Don’t be an e-mail pest. Here are 7 ways to be better at it.

Aug 08, 2016 by Brendan Jack

E-mail is so easy, anyone can do it, right? Maybe not. Ultimately, sending mail is about communicating, and we can all aim to be better communicators.

Be clear

Starting from the subject line. Think like a journalist. Try to create a compelling headline that draws people in and broaches the body of the message. Just avoid the click-bait headlines. e.g. Dave, check these sales stats… you won’t believe what happened next?!

That’ll probably end up in the spam folder.

Same for use of exclamation points!!! Are you sending spam or a teenage tweet? Save your exuberance for face-to-face meetings

People might avoid opening your e-mail based on the subject line, so make it count.

Angry e-mails are forever

E-mailing bad news or reacting in anger can start a chain (mail) of events and replies. Don’t start digital forest fires.

In the same vein, keep confidential matters to a minimum when e-mailing. (Just ask Hillary Clinton).

Once you’ve sent a mail, it’s on file. Always available to be printed, re-sent in years to come, or used against you in some way.

Don’t fight over -mail. If it gets emotional, then take it offline. (And fight in the canteen.)

Everyone’s a comedian

There’s a reason why Seinfeld can make any room laugh, even on a bad night - he’s had years of professional experience at the coalface. Unless you know the person, it’s better to err towards a formal or mildly light-hearted tone before hitting them with a “Nun walks into a bar…” joke, or a photo meme about overweight people in Walmart.

It’s safest to be cordial. If you don’t know the person, use their full name (and not a fun nickname you just made up).

Work it

Use a work e-mail address. This is debatable as many people are okay with Gmail accounts nowadays. But work mail addresses clearly state where the mail is coming from and adds extra legitimacy. Whichever way you go, avoid personal e-mail addresses that you set up during university days. probably doesn’t leave the best impression anymore.

Same goes for e-mails with “sent from my iPhone”. Some mails may require more time and care than being sent from your phone – which are often more short and abrupt. Consider sending from your laptop, or delete the ‘sent from phone’ notification.

Check less

Some business books suggest only checking your mail once a week. The theory is that if it’s important, correspondence won’t just get e-mailed to you - you’ll get a call or SMS as well. This is probably risky business unless you’re a CEO with assistants managing your schedule. Find a balance. You’re not a call centre, but try to respond timeously. The consensus is within 24 to 48 hours.


As you’ll know from social media, people can interpret your message in more ways than you can imagine. (Finding that you’re fired from your job and banned from Facebook after late-night a rant session.) Re-read your e-mails before sending. Imagine it from a neutral perspective. Are you being as clear as possible?

Poor spelling online is almost to be expected. But take a moment to proofread. This goes back to making a clear point. If it’s a business proposal or is client-related, then spelling maketh the mail. There’s no place for ‘CU later’ and ‘UR GR8’ in a work mail.

Final checks

The BCC can be evil, and the CC is not so kosher either. Only use them when necessary.

Keep your mails concise, no one likes to read anymore (long e-mails, that is).

Use mails sparingly, especially if you’re sending to someone who’s likely to receive endless mails. Don’t bog them down.

"Reply all?" Does everyone on the address list need to see this?

Avoid attachments if the info can be copy and pasted. This helps with being concise and clearly getting your message across.

E-mail can be cold and often has no context, so be sensitive to others, and also, be strong.

Does no response really mean they’re not interested? There’s a good chance, but it could also mean they simply did not read your e-mail while on sabbatical, or forgot to respond.

If you’re sending a snotty e-mail with “I’m not interested, piss off.” Maybe delete your “best regards” or “warm wishes” autosignature. Or leave it, perhaps it makes even more of a statement.

Did you just accidentally mail the person who you’re moaning about? This probably happens a lot. Double-check the address.

Summing up

E-mails are forever, so be careful before you send.

Communication and clarity can be tricky. Try to imagine getting your e-mail… does it make sense and is it necessary?

Sometimes a face-to-face discussion can reduce the number of e-mails (explaining your previous e-mails).

Jokes and icebreakers can help, but use your intuition. Get the timing right.

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