8 Ways to Help Your Team Write Better Email


If you and your teammates have communication problems, I have one question for you. How much of your communication happens via email?

When the problems are many, the percentage is usually high. Email is missing some key information that helps us understand the message, namely body language and vocal qualities.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology¬†found that email recipients only correctly interpreted an email’s tone 50% of the time. The study also found that people believed they got it right 90% of the time. Image the problems this can lead to on a team that communicates primarily through email.

Most teams would benefit from using less email and having more telephone and face-to-face conversations. But let’s face it. Email is great because I can fire off a message whenever it’s convenient for me and not have to be present if there’s some unpleasant blowback.

If you are going to use it, then I recommend the following tips. My guess is that everyone has at least a couple of these they could improve upon.

  1. Get their attention with an appropriate (honest and interesting) subject line. Don’t trick them by overdoing it.
  2. Keep it short and to the point. People are busy and won’t read your email if it looks too long.
  3. Pay attention to spelling, grammar and punctuation. Make it easy to read, unless you want to send the message that you are either uneducated or don’t care.
  4. Make it personal, using proper salutations and sign-offs.
  5. Use the right level of formality. This is dependent upon the relationship you have with the intended recipient. Choose the wrong level, and you risk offending.
  6. Send it only to the person or people who need to receive it.
  7. Assume your email will be forwarded, especially to people you don’t want to see it.
  8. Don’t try to convey humor, sarcasm, or other complex ideas. It just doesn’t come through very well.

Effective communication is critical to a team’s success. Make email effectiveness one key part of your overall team development strategy.

Image credit: Sean MacEntee

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce owns LaForce Teamwork Services, a Minneapolis-based consulting company. He's on a mission to create better results through teamwork. He wrote Meeting Hero: Plan and Lead Engaging, Productive Meetings.