image of someone whispering in someone's ear

Better Email Communication in 3 Easy Steps

image of someone whispering in someone's ear

Do you have to send someone several emails to get answers to your questions? Does it take people a long time to respond?

I am going to be brutally honest. The problem is most likely you – not the recipient.

Email is generally used to share a thought, idea, or decision. If you want to get a quick, quality response, try these three easy steps to improve your email communication…

Step 1: Be specific

Be very specific when writing an email. If you want to schedule a meeting, don’t ask, “What day works for you?” Give them some suggestions instead.

But – don’t suggest too many options. Just be specific enough to force a decision. If your suggestions won’t work, the recipient will send you a reply with details of their availability.

Here’s an example:

Hi Jim,

How does 1:30 or 3:30 pm on Tuesday work for you?

Step 2: Use numbered lists

This is a must. Before I began using numbered lists, it would often take me 3 or 4 emails to get the answers I needed. I was asking too much of the recipient by forcing them to extract the pertinent information.

If you ask three or more questions, the recipient is likely to only respond to one of them. Nobody wants to do extra work, so use bullet points.

Here’s an example:

Hi Jim,

I finished setting up the website. Let me know what you think of the following:

  1. I used dark green for the header. I can lighten it up if you feel it’s too dark?
  2. Is the address in the footer correct? (if not, please send me the correct one)
  3. Do you want the “about” page in both the main navigation and the footer, as it is now?

Step 3: Write short sentences and paragraphs

Short sentences and paragraphs are easier to read and understand. People are better able to digest information that’s presented in small chunks. The recipient may set your email aside if he/she can’t scan and comprehend it quickly, and you will be left waiting for a response. So keep your email concise, and help the recipient help you.

Try these three simple steps for 1 week and see if your email communication improves. I’ve found this approach catches on. Many of the people I regularly email have begun using these techniques, and they’ve helped our overall communication.

Have you ever dealt with any of these issues? How do you deal with the problem?

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About Alex Lawrence

Alex has been a successful entrepreneur for 20+ years. His current venture Lendio ranks #34 on the Inc. 500 list. Alex earned a BS degree at the University of Utah and his MBA at Weber State University, where he is Vice Provost and Director of the Entrepreneurship Program. If you want to talk with Alex about business and entrepreneurship (or other questions), email him (alex AT startupflavor DOT com), or you can find him on Twitter @_AlexLawrence.
  • Great article! I’ve started my own inbox management series at http://www.youngandprosperous.com – Maybe some things that we can collaborate on?


    • Alex Lawrence

      Thanks Dustin. I’ll have to check your post out and see what your take is. Thanks for coming here from Twitter though and sharing. Always appreciated.

  • Good points.

    I try to write my emails the same way I would write a news article, which is to say that I put the core details right at the forefront and I break things up so that they are found easily even if a reader is skimming.

    Number questions is pretty much essential unless you like to have most of your questions get ignored.

    • Alex Lawrence

      Thank you John. Good comment too. I’m glad you found the post agreeable to your current style. I hope you’ll check back in and comment again. Stay connected!

  • Sunny

    I always try to be short, sweet, to the point (but never rude) and remember to address the 5 “W”s for clarity:
    – who
    – what
    – when
    – where
    – why
    – how

    If I receive an email which is unclear I usually ask a clarifying question. Example from sent folder today, “What do you need from me in order to make this happen?”

    • Alex Lawrence

      Hi Sunny – thanks for joining us on the blog from Twitter. Your comment is spot on IMO. I wish my email box had more of YOUR emails in it 🙂

  • David Politis

    Nice article, Alex. I’d suggest one other “tip” for writing/sending emails — spellcheck/proof-read every single one (especially if the email is for business).

    Nothing screams louder that you do not care what you’re writing about than having misspelled words or bad punctuation in an email. (And I know some people say it doesn’t matter, but it does.)

    • Alex Lawrence

      Thanks a lot David. That means a lot coming from an email expert (and branding, communication, PR too!) like yourself. I have a question about your suggestion though. When I send emails to people in my company, partners, friends and more I do use spellcheck. However, I do not always capitalize or use perfect grammar. I bust out an email and hit send. Good/Bad? If I’m sending it outside of that circle, I take care to do my best to write the email properly (grammar, punctuation and spelling). Thoughts?

      • David Politis

        I understand the sentiment, Alex. But even “friends” can think you are unprofessional or that one’s writing is sloppy. The risk is that they might think you’re unprofessional/sloppy in other areas of your life and therefore not select or recommend you/your company as a partner. That’s why I ALWAYS proof-read and spellcheck emails, and even then, sometimes a mistake slips through the cracks.

        Text messages, however, are a different animal. I feel people are a lot more forgiving of spelling and punctuation mistakes in text messages. But then again, that’s probably a topic for a different blog post.

        Keep up the good work.

        Dave Politis

        • Speaking from someone who grew up in the technological age, I have to say that I think proofreading and proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling are a must no matter the medium. Mistakes make you look sloppy and unprofessional.

          After all, why work to ingrain bad habits? It’s not like it takes extra time to type properly, unless you’re used to typing improperly.

          • Alex Lawrence

            I make mistakes on inter-company emails all the time. I just don’t take the time to proofread much. I hit send FAST. It may make me look sloppy and/or unprofessional. I know one person at my office thinks it does. He gives me a hard time about it. I just simply blast out my reply and hit send sometimes. I need to work on it.

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