Email is the tool that most people who are online use. It works in low bandwidth. It is familiar and comparatively simple to use. The down side is that since it is used so much, we have developed some bad email habits and experience periods of email overload.
From ODI: “Tools for Knowledge and Learning A Guide for Development and Humanitarian Organisations”, 2006.
Key points/practical tips
Before you compose an email, consider if there is a more appropriate way of communicating. If email is the most appropriate, it is important make the purpose of the email clear and ensure that you are sending it to the relevant people. Ask yourself:
Why do I need to send this email?
o State the purpose of the email concisely in the ‘subject’ field so that readers do not have to open the
email to know what it is about.
o Use a layout that is easy to understand, including bullet lists, one idea per paragraph, etc. Use
simple language wherever possible.
o If there are many action points, summarise these at the end in a numbered list, showing who needs
to take which actions by when.
o If your organisation has a high volume of email traffic, agree on guidelines and alternatives to the use
of emails (such as staff notice boards in a shared office space, newsletters, etc).
Who needs to receive this email? What actions (if any) do they need to take on reading this email?
o If actions are required from the readers, include them in the ‘to’ mail header; if you are sending the
email for their reference, include them in the ‘cc’ (carbon copy) mail header but make it clear why
they should see the email; if you want to copy someone in but do not want the other recipients to
know that they are copied, use the ‘bc’ (blind copy) mail header. You can also use the ‘bc’ header if
you want to send yourself copies of messages so that you can store them in appropriate folders
What attachments do I need to add to this email? Do all of the recipients need to read these?
o Only add attachments that cannot be circulated more effectively through other means: consider
putting them on the internet and sending the URL by email, for example.
o If there are multiple attachments, provide a sentence on each which says who needs to read it and
which order they should read them.
o Do not send attachments that your recipients will not have the software to open.
o Beware of sending large attachments to those with limited server capacity.
Is this a priority email?
o Avoid overusing the ‘priority’ email option. If the information contained in the email is urgently required, make sure the ‘subject’ reflects the content of the email.
o If a response or immediate action needs to be taken then include ‘response required by …’ or ‘action required’ in the subject field. If the email is for reference only, mark this either in the subject field or at the start of the email.
o Be cautious in the use of ‘read receipts’: if you want to know if someone has read your email, ask them to confirm receipt.
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