Effective Email Communication

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Use of Subject Lines

Some email recipients rely heavily on the subject line to inform them of the email’s topic and to search and find the email for reference once read. Use the subject line to indicate the topic so that the recipient immediately knows what the message is about. Be specific since a lot of our communication topics of overlap. For example, if you need information for a proposal due soon, you might use the subject line, “Request of information regarding NSF proposal, KR PD 123456, due August 16.”

Limit to One Topic per Email

Limit the email to one topic. Don’t ask questions or include information that are unrelated to the subject line. When you do this, you risk important information getting missed and the subject line search will no longer be effective. If you find your email conversation begins to stray from the original topic indicated in the subject line, be certain to change the subject line or start a new email altogether.

Use of Bullet Points

If you want a response to all of the questions you ask in an email, consider using bullet points or numbering questions. For example, if you need proposal intake information, number your questions so that none are missed. Numbering and bullet points are your email friends.

  1. Who is the Sponsor?
  2. Who is the Principal Investigator?
  3. Will there be any CSU personnel involved on the project?
    1. If yes, please provide names, departments, and role on the project (e.g. Clara Smith, Psychology, Co-Investigator)

Lead with the Most Important Information

Lead with what you most want to communicate in the email. If you need answers to questions, ask those questions upfront. Don’t waste the first few sentences on extraneous information. Some readers get distracted after the first few sentences and may never read important information if it is buried deep within the body of the email.

Be Concise

To the extent possible, keep emails clear and brief, and don’t over-communicate by email. If you find you have a lot of upfront explaining to do, or if you find you and the recipient need to exchange more than one or two emails on a topic, it might be time to pick up the phone to communicate or to use a chat feature, like the one found in Microsoft Teams. If you rely on email for record keeping, send a summary email following the phone call or chat to keep a written record.

Habits to Avoid

Avoid using a LOT OF CAPITALIZATION and boldface type and BOLDFACE CAPITALIZATION to get your points across. Doing so is more of an annoyance than an eye-catcher. Using three typefaces or less is best practice. Avoid color-coding, as some recipients may be color vision deficient. Avoid using REPLY ALL if the reply is only meant for particular recipient(s). Finally, avoid marking every email as URGENT! Doing so will ensure that the recipient does not believe the message is urgent.

Final Notes

  • Proofread/spell check email prior to sending.
  • Keep email communications professional by using professional salutations such as “Good morning” and “Regards.”
  • Don’t expect a reply from someone who has been carbon copied (Cc). The general practice is to use the Cc field to send a copy to people who need to be in the loop, but who do not need to take any action.
  • Use blind copying (Bcc) when you don’t want to share email addresses in the address list. Don’t assume that Bcc will keep recipients from knowing who else was copied. The recipient who is blind copied can still REPLY ALL and send to everyone.
  • Use a signature block that includes your contact information (physical address including city, state, and zip code; office phone including area code; and email address – yes, include your email address in the subject block for ease of access). Make sure the font size and type are readable.
  • Don’t forget any attachments promised!

To ensure your email is understood, think before you write. Start with your purpose, provide the reader with some context, and state the desired outcome(s) at the end of your message. Taking these steps will help successfully convey your meaning to the intended audience.

Happy writing, and stay tuned for, “Best Practices for Reading Email”!



Blog post by Tricia Callahan, Senior Research Education and Information Officer, Office of Sponsored Programs