Email Etiquette – Don’t Rankle Your Reader

Email may not be the best communication alternative, but it’s the one most businesses use. Given that reality, you can probably improve how you say what you want to say. For example, if you end an email with your lead instead of starting with one, you’ve lost your reader. If you start with a strong lead but don’t back it up, you might not be taken seriously. If you make too many points and bury them in too much content, you’re overwhelming the reader.

If you’re not sure you’re the culprit in any of these scenarios, recall the kind of feedback you’ve received when it comes to your speaking style. How you speak is likely evidenced in how you write.

If you’ve been told that you go on, well past the point of interesting, and never seem to get to the point until you’re running out of time… yours or someone else’s…it’s highly likely that you’re doing the same thing when you write emails. You can change that if you recognize that receivers are more interested in the action you want them to take, or they need to make, than a trip through all the events that led you to that conclusion.

If you think that your writing is so engaging that the business reader has nothing more pressing to do than read long, impassioned paragraphs of it, you’re mistaken. Employees, whether they work in an office, from home, or in the home, typically have more to do than they have time to do it. Because of that, they read emails while asking this question: What!? What do I need to know, do, start, stop, change, or just leave alone?

On the other hand, watch that you don’t say too little and send emails that are more sound bite than sound statement. If there’s no action required, no clear purpose for sending or indication what the reader should do when receiving, don’t send it.

If you’re an e-mailer who tucks the most important issues in the middle of a single spaced, 10 pt typed, very long email, you can count on the recipient missing it or missing that it’s a priority, given where it’s positioned in the message.

If you’re an e-mailer who prefers harmony to discord, you might circle a difficult issue rather than confront it. As a result, your emails might ramble and your word choices neutralize what you want to say but don’t dare.

If you’re an e-mailer who likes to diffuse your frustrations by writing about them, don’t. What you send in an email has a long shelf life, can be read by the very people you don’t want to see it, and can subject you to everything from humiliation to termination.

So here’s the headline: Rather than rankle your reader, make your point quickly, clearly, and send.

Make your emails brief. Lead with your expectation. If you include support documentation or background information, indicate such and place it at the end, not the beginning of your communication. And stick to business.

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Joyce Richman ( has been specializing in executive and career coaching since she started her own practice in 1982. She works in a variety of environments including: higher education, manufacturing, sales, marketing, media, technology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, banking and finance, service, IT, and non-profit sectors. A member of the adjunct faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, Joyce is certified to administer a number of feedback and psychological instruments. Joyce has appeared regularly on WFMY-TV and is the career columnist for The Greensboro News & Record. She is the author of Roads, Routes and Ruts: A Guidebook to Career Success and co-author of Getting Your Kid Out of the House and Into a Job. A popular speaker, Richman conducts seminars and workshops throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Her coaching profile can be found at