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How to Communicate via Email


Email is great. It lets you converse with other people with messages without interrupting them like a phone call or text message would. A phone call, though useful in many cases, is sort of like say "Talk to me now, I need your undivided attention", whereas an email lets you say what's on your mind allowing the recipient to get back to you at their convenience. This is especially handy when the answer you're looking for isn't something that's needed right away or particularly quick to answer.

The websites and email applications that we manage email messages in are great organizational tools. By using common subjects, they can put entire discussions into "threads" which collects everything into one place. This can be very helpful when going back to see what was said earlier in the conversation and for a record of any decisions or answers that have been given. All major email applications including web-based readers like Gmail support message threads.

Only a well formatted email message will find itself organized into an email thread.

When sending the first message and when replying, it's important to maintain that format that was started in the beginning of a discussion. If a client emails me a message with the subject "website", when I reply, it'll go directly into their thread with the subject "Re: website". If I were to reply and change the subject, or write a NEW message altogether, it will no longer be part of that discussion thread. It takes an extra step to get things disorganized like this, but I see it more often than I should.

When writing an email, it's up to the sender to be clear and concise with what it is you're asking. This is all based on Letter Writing 101, just because it's digital doesn't mean proper etiquette should be ignored. Give the recipient the info they need, don't assume they know what you're thinking or have them try to guess what you're trying to say. You don't know what the other person's inbox looks like, they might get hundreds of emails every day. Do what you can on your end to make sure your message is easy to find and easy to read. I personally get quite a few emails with the subject "website"... that tells me very little about what it is your asking me. Be specific with your subject, like "Request for a website redesign", or even more so: "Website redesign for mywebsite.com". With only the subject, I know exactly what it is you're looking for.

The message itself should contain a few elements

  • Description of your question/comments
  • Specific links to, or description of what it is your question/comments are referring to
  • If you're experiencing an issue, what steps did you take when you saw the issue?
  • When finding an issue, what web browser and operating system are you using?
  • Your name and any other relevant contact info other than your email address

When you have a thorough email to send, it gives the recipient everything they need to send you the answers you're looking for. The better the initial question is, the fewer back and forth emails it takes to get the complete picture. Though there are many services for sending files to someone (see my Resource Page for links), it's helpful to tell the user what you're sending and when a series of multiple emails will be complete. For example, if you're sending a series of 5 attachments one email at a time, include in the body of the email which number of how many this particular set of attachments this message might be, ie: "2 of 5".

Tips on what NOT to do... EVER

  • Send an email with ONLY a subject
  • Email someone a "Did you get my email?" email
  • Attach something to an email without any note on what it is or what it's for
  • Send a series of single-question emails in a succession

With clear and concise emails, your recipient can have all the info they need to quickly get back to you, and keeps everyone's inbox neat and tidy.