Software

Write more effective e-mails... in reverse

It's easy to overlook something important when you're dashing off an e-mail - like an attachment, a subject line, or a coherent point. BNET's Dave Johnson shares a trick he came across that will help ensure your e-mails are useful and complete before you hit Send.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in the BNET Business Hacks blog.

Sometimes it's the little things that increase your productivity. Don't get a new word processor, for example -- just learn to use the keyboard shortcuts on the program you already own. In that same spirit, Every Joe offers some unexpected advice for improving your productivity by reversing the way you usually write your e-mails.

Instead of entering the main message text, then addressees and subject, and finishing with an attachment (which is the order 99% of us do almost every time), follow these steps:

  • Attach the files. Starting with this step mean you won't forget to add the attachments at the end. It also helps you keep the message focused on the main point, which is probably related to the attached files.
  • Write the body text. Be sure to relate the message to the attachments and the desired outcome of sending the message.
  • Write the subject. Now that you've written the message, the subject should be like a thesis statement -- a concise restatement of the body. It also eliminates messages with blank subject lines, which are mysterious, confusing, and also make you look foolish.
  • Add recipients. Doing this last prevents you from accidentally sending the message without the subject line or attachments. It also allows you to smartly select who to send it to based on all the work you put into the first three steps.

Even if you choose not to follow this interesting strategy, don't forget that that there are tools to help you avoid forgetting the attachment. And I recently offered some useful advice on sending efficient e-mail.


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10 comments
dwood
dwood

Going along with your reverse theme, do one more thing in reverse. Stop before hitting send and read the email starting at the bottom and going in reverse. Your brain won't think about the subject matter and you will tend to catch more errors.

kwolf
kwolf

Great tip, thank you. The number of times I have forgotten the attachment is embarrassing. Maybe this technique will help prevent that from happening. I would like to send this to all my users if this is available as a pdf or doc file. Thanks again

paula.halbach
paula.halbach

Another option that I use, I don't have emails sent immediately but rather every 5 minutes. This way after I hit send and then realize I missed something it's still sitting in my Outbox. If I need it to go immediately because I know someone is waiting for the email I can click send/recieve and force it to go now.(Options - Mail Setup, unchecked "send immediatly" and in the SEND/RECEIVE window define the interval to have emails sent) Pauhal@earthlink.net

melias
melias

I think the reason emails are done this way are because of memo styles. If you look at an email today, it resembles a memo. In fact, Outlook even has a 'memo style' print.

ebsfrmr
ebsfrmr

I also have been doing this for not only attachments, but also my regular mission critical messages. Had a few instances when messages were sent unintentionally, before I was finished writing my message...rather embarrassing I must say.

ginmemphis
ginmemphis

I've written e-mails this was for ages, but never thought to tell my staff. Now I have "official" tip to pass on. Thanks.

Somewhiteguy
Somewhiteguy

I've felt that email editors have had the editor screen on upside down. I never understood why it was so awkward. This post makes me feel that way even more. I remember using a email editor back in the day that had the above design (body,attachment,subject,recipients) but haven't seen anything like that for a while. Guess people got used to the design and nobody is about to challenge what has been done :-(.

SirWizard
SirWizard

Capture the content to create your own version of these tips. Provide attribution to give the original author credit. Wait a while for other posters to present their own good suggestions and add them to your in-house doc/pdf. Here are my suggestions: Use a spell checker and look carefully at the words that are offered as replacements for each misspelling. Be careful that your/you're/yore making the right selection. My lady boss who wrote, "Bare with me," meant "Bear with me." Being a wiseass, I wrote back that I'd tolerate a delay, but didn't intend to get naked with her. (She was the sort to understand the humor.) Remember that a spell checker doesn't catch all mistakes, so reread you message. Then notice that "you" is spelled correctly, but it should be: reread "your" message. Errors can slip by because you might see what you had intended to write rather than what you actually wrote. If your message is going out to a large audience or has a critical corporate relevance, pass it to your favorite tech writer/nitpicker first to catch any mistakes that you can't see, such as in the company-wide announcement I had received for an event on April 31st.

gfhavewala
gfhavewala

To be frank, I have been following this for nearly 10 years now, ever since I prematurely 'sent' an email, instead of 'saving' it. (Alt-S vs Ctrl-S confusion in Outlook-98.) However, I write 'Subject' before the body text, as one tends to skip it often.

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