Danny's Lab

Engineering the World

Writing effective emails

Published on: Jan 30, 2011
Reading time: 1 minute

How many times have you written an email to someone only to discover they missed a number of key points you wanted them to know? While one can claim that the reader should be more responsible, the writer also shares some responsibility in delivering his message effectively.

"I'm sorry this letter is so long, I didn't have time to make it shorter." -- George Bernard Shaw

In this article, I'll be covering a few techniques to help ensure that your message is easily digestible: the inverted pyramid, lists, and tables.

The inverted pyramid is a journalism technique that basically puts all the important information up at the top. The value of this is that if the reader stops or gets distracted at any point, you can be sure that he has much of the key info.

Usually when you're sending someone an email, you want them to do something about it. So in this case, I would place the actions I want them to perform up top. Then I would continue on with a more detailed explanation of why I want them to do this.

This usually works well because people usually don't have huge objections to what I'm asking, so they'll take a cursory look at the explanation and that's good enough. However, if they do have any major issues or lack of understanding, then the information is there for them to get further details.

The next thing you can do to help your readers is to take any series of actions you have, organize it, and put it in a bullet list. This helps to really focus the eyes on the key information. It also gives people a nice sort of checklist they can easily refer back to.

Finally, you'll want to make sure that if you have lots of data, you give that to people in a table, sorted in some way that makes sense. Typically this will be either chronologically, or by price, etc. This also gives people a quick at-a-glance view of the important info you're trying to pass along.