Get Read: The Cardinal Rules of E-Mail

By  |  Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 11:22 am

Steve Bass's TechBiteWant me to ignore your e-mail? Can do. Just leave the subject line blank, stick your entire message into one, long, 300-word sentence, or use cutesy, curlicued fonts I can’t decipher. Oh, yeah, make sure you use a lavender background and neon green type.

Get ready, I have dozens of ways for you to make sure your e-mail is read.

I’m providing these tips as a public service. Ah, heck, that’s not true. The topic’s entirely for me. I’m persnickety about e-mail because I go nuts trying to plow through the 50 or so e-mails I get each day from TechBite subscribers. Too many are loaded with things that make my head hurt and my eyes water.

So here’s this week’s list of ways to help you can write less annoying e-mail, messages that I’ll actually read — as will your buddies. I’ll have more next week.

The stack of tips aren’t in order of importance; in fact, they’re all equally important. And listen, do me and everyone else with e-mail a favor and forward these tips to, as they say, everyone you know.

  • Tell me, as explicitly as you can, what your message is about in the “Subject” line. I view with skepticism messages with vague subjects — Hi, Hello, How are you? Even worse are empty subject lines, and I usually delete those e-mails.
  • Don’t trigger my spam filter by using all capital letters, exclamation points, and words typically seen in spam. Sorry, I’d love to give examples, but my newsletter program’s filter would trap them.
  • I often get messages that are one long paragraph (like this one) with complicated details. Most of the time, I don’t read them. Break up your message into three or four small paragraphs. (By the way, my limit is three or four paragraphs. After that I start dozing.) You might even provide a one- or two-sentence overview. “I have a complicated issue,” you could start out, “with a Dell, memory cards, XP, and SP3. If you have time to help, I’ve provided details below.” If you have more than one question, or a bunch of points to make, number them. It makes replying a whole lot easier as I can refer to the numbers.
  • If you have a great link to share, don’t just stick the URL in the e-mail. Include a short description of where I’m heading.
  • You want to attach a bunch of photos to your message? Cool, but if there are more than four or five, Zip them into an archive. 7-Zip is a freebie and will do the job nicely.
  • Those images you were about to send me? They’d better be small because I don’t want a dozen 4-megabyte photos of your last picnic. Before you send them, use an image resizer. Microsoft has a free one for XP as part of its Power Toys collection; there’s a version for Vista, too.
  • I know how much you love sending 10-megabyte videos of elephants imitating Picasso. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing them–but attaching a video in e-mail is so last century. If you look I’ll bet you’ll find it on YouTube. This tip is especially important when I’m traveling with my notebook, cramped in the car in front of a realtor’s office, snatching their slow wireless connection, and watching the download progress bar crawl across the screen.

Tip: Sending Big Files. There are alternatives to attaching large files in e-mail. Fire up your browser and head for YouSendIt. You upload your file — up to 100MB–and YouSendIt informs me by e-mail that a file’s awaiting. I can download it at my leisure.

  • My AV program scans incoming e-mails, so while I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I know that your antivirus program is screening your outgoing e-mails, I don’t need see its blurb at the bottom of your e-mail. It’s easy to turn the message off — just poke around in your AV program’s settings.
  • When you reply or forward an e-mail, it’s helpful if you stick one or two descriptive words in front of the original subject so the recipient has an idea of what’s in store. For instance, I use words such as “Update:”, “Confirmation:”, or “Really dumb:”.

My gosh, I’ve really gone over my limit in this newsletter and I’m still not done. I promise more e-mail tips soon. (And no, in real life, I don’t say, “my gosh.” That was my editor’s idea. I would have said, “WTF, outta space already!?”)

[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]



4 Comments For This Post

  1. Jeff Says:

    Leopard has a free photo resizer too, Preview or iPhoto. Tiger has iPhoto.
    If one is a Linux user download GIMP, which is a free, robust photo-editing software. In fact GIMP can be used on Windows and Macs as well.

  2. dt Says:



  3. Chris Kindle Says:

    Just came across your blog on Google. Interesting post, you bring up a few good things to think about. Good luck with the blog.

  4. mirlme Says:

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