How Can I Create User-Friendly Email People Will Be Happy to Read?

February 18, 2009

in communication,e-mail

by Gabe Goldberg

What could be simpler than sending email? You type, someone (sometimes many someones!) reads. But aren’t there some people whose email you enjoy reading and some whose notes are annoying or even painful to slog through?

Simple tips will make you a “favored corresponder” and get your email read sooner rather than later.

High on the list of musts is trimming what you quote when replying. That is, remove (highlight with mouse and press Delete key) all text that isn’t essential, isn’t related to your reply. Especially remove repeated mailing list information and old sig(nature) files from the bottom of your reply. When this basic housekeeping isn’t done, after a few back-and-forth exchanges, notes can grow to hundreds of lines, making it hard to find whatever is added each time. It’s especially bad on discussion mailing lists.

Opinions differ on how best to add reply text. I usually put it at the top of my notes, so it’s the first thing seen when the note is opened. But if a discussion is complex, I’ll interleave my typing between paragraphs I answer. When done consistently, both these techniques create a log of what’s been said, easily reviewed from bottom (oldest material) to top (newest). Some people add replies at bottom but I find that a bit confusing.

When writing to multiple people, distinguish between people receiving the note for action/reply (listed in To field) and those getting it for information only (CC, Courtesy Copy or Carbon Copy).

If you’re sending to more than just a few people, especially if they’re not a close-knit group, list addressees in the BCC (Blind Courtesy Copy) field. This has important advantages: It hides addressees, keeping them confidential and preventing them from being captured by spammers, and it keeps your note from being bloated and hard to read.

Most email software allows you to specify which field (To, CC, BCC) an addressee should appear in; choices are often in pulldown lists at the top of the email composition window.

If you’re one of several addressees (listed in To or CC), think carefully before you Reply All. Be sure that everyone needs to see your reply before sending it. Always double check To and CC lists before clicking Send.

Before you Reply All, ensure that you are on the note’s To or CC list. If you’re not, you received a blind copy — so addressees don’t know you did. If you Reply All you may embarrass the original sender and yourself.

Don’t use ALL capital letters — that’s considered shouting.

Stay calm; out-of-control ranting is called “flaming” and is never popular. If you’re responding to something irritating or worrisome, let your note sit overnight before sending it. You may feel calmer the next day. Sometimes it’s useful to have someone review such a note for you before it’s sent.

Remember that the Internet never forgets — and once you send an email you never know and can’t control where it ends up.

Gabe Goldberg (, a lifelong computer pro and technology communicator, has written three books and hundreds of articles for audiences including techies, baby boomers and senior citizens. He enjoys sharing tips and pointers that help people use and have fun with technology.