Considerations around why we send emails:
Question the why: we tend to send emails as a way of keeping a paper trail, either as some form of contract, or to act as a way of covering our backs. But should we be doing this? Do we need a written contract to trust that work will be done?
We are creatures of habit: we send some emails without really thinking about the need. Take a look at the last five emails you sent and consider whether you thought about whether email was the best channel to use before hitting send.
Email is not the only way: as well as lots of techy new solutions to communication problems (like MS Teams, Slack and Messenger) we still have those more traditional ways of communicating, like face-to-face or telephone.
Do use emails for:
- Decisions: should you go for option A or option B? Sometimes we need to send emails to others to check which way to go.
- Sign off: you might need to seek confirmation that you’re on the right track, or to get sign-off for funding for example.
- Actions (including invites, surveys and sign-ups).
- To give thanks and praise and celebrate achievements.
Perhaps don’t use emails for:
- Idea generating (try face-to-face or telephone).
- Project scoping (try face-to-face or telephone).
- Document sharing (try using SharePoint).
- Scheduling meetings (try using Doodle).
If you do need to send an email, here are some tips for making them great:
- Think before sending emails outside your normal working hours. When you send an email out of hours, it can feel to the recipient that they need to reply. So, think about whether you need to send it at all, and if you do, would it be better to schedule it to send during the week?
- Avoid long email chains, sometimes it’s much quicker to deal with these things face-to-face or over the phone.
- If you’re going to forward an existing chain to someone else, it saves the recipient time if you can summarise the context of why your forwarding them the message as well as what’s in the preceding messages.
- Be clear about what actions and decisions you need from your reader; you might want to group them together and use headings to make them easy to find.
- Only use carbon copy (Cc) when you're sending the email for someone's information, not when you need their input.
- Be clear in the subject line about what’s in your message, this can help give context, but can also help with filters that some staff might have set up.
- Keep messages short and to the point, but you should still be courteous.
- Think about the tone of voice you use, can your message come across as rude?
- Don’t use capitals (it's THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING!).
- Emails shouldn't be used to communicate personal or sensitive information. For added security, you can send password protected files as attachments.
And remember that:
An email creates a permanent record – it is nearly impossible to completely delete an email message.
Emails are not as private as they may seem, for example, emails can be subject to freedom of information requests and are easily forwarded on to a wider audience than you intended – so never write anything you wouldn’t want re-published under your name.
The laws relating to written communication also apply to email messages – this includes, but is not restricted to, defamation, copyright, freedom of information, wrongful discrimination, obscenity and fraudulent misrepresentation, as well as data protection. For the data security aspects of data protection alone never share your email ID and password with others.