I didn’t expect that email writing would be arguably my most practical takeaway from higher education. 

But after three crazy years of classes, activities, and relational upkeep, it is clear that if I want people to read my emails—and I mean actually read them—I need to apply a little bit of PR strategy to my daily communications.

More specifically, the audience of my words needs to shape what and how I communicate. Prioritizing the reader’s experience while I type allows me to be concise and create messaging that can resonate and obtain results.

Emails can be minor, but they can also be an integral part of cultivating and maintaining relationships in the digital sphere. They are worth applying a bit of effort.

1. Don’t skip the pleasantries.

I’m sure you want to keep your email short. As the recipient, I want that probably more than you do. In an effort to be efficient, it’s easy to jump over the “How are you?” and dive straight into the “Here’s what I need from you.”

But you can’t skip the pleasantries; there’s a human behind the screen, and to disregard their personhood for the sake of efficiency won’t help with any relationships.

On the other side of this is another problem: cheesy cliches are no good either. “Hope this email finds you well…” might as well just say “I couldn’t think of a better line here but don’t want to sound pushy.”

The point is this: email communication can be both efficient and relationally edifying, but it takes a pinch of intentionality and a hint of creativity to make that work. Show people you care. Asking individualized questions or cracking a witty joke can go a long way.

2. Format strategically.

There’s a distinct type of confused frustration that comes from fielding responses that ask for the exact information that is in the original email. However, I’d argue that the blame here is rarely on the reader. Communicators need to be sure their message is clear, and format is a key piece of this.

Paragraphs and sentences need to be short. Make the content as digestible as possible. A huge paragraph of over-explained and complicated wording is overwhelming for the reader. Instead, break it up. Use tools like:

  • Lists
  • Bolding
  • Italics
  • Underlining
  • Highlighting
  • Indentation
  • Larger fonts
  • Varying fonts

Obviously, don’t overstimulate the reader, but be strategic about which words you extract for them. They will be more likely to read and understand these.

3. Call the reader to action.

In choosing which pieces of information to highlight, always be clear about what you need from the recipient. Talk with the person who receives your email, not at them. Let them know what you would like them to do, when you would like them to do it, and how they are to let you know.

Clarifying what you are asking for will help both you and them avoid frustration and save time. Results are better when communication is smooth.

4. Follow up.

If things don’t go according to plan the first time, no need to fret. Follow-up emails are an excellent tool to remind and re-ask questions of people.

It isn’t rude to give a nudge telling others you’re still there and could still use their help. As a recipient, I always appreciate the extra follow-through of senders. It reveals dedication and reinforces that my role in whatever they are doing is important to them.

Sticking to the above guidelines will doubtless help your emails to be received with grace and responded to with efficiency. This established, it should be said that there will never be a perfect email, and quite frankly, it isn’t worth your time to try to write one.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll experience “emailer’s block” when it comes to what to say and how to say it. The balance of pushy vs. soft, efficient vs. personable, and succinct vs. eloquent can be difficult to achieve. 

But don’t overthink it. 

The time spent reading your email will be far less than the time it took you to type it. No one is scrutinizing your words looking to be offended or confused, and if you can understand your role in that communication dynamic, you can save yourself a lot of stress.

So go ahead: say what you need to say, slap an engaging subject line on the email, and be kind. Your intentions will echo through your email, and your reader will appreciate them.

Best,

Brady
PRSSA Podcast Host
Avid Email Writer

About the Author:

Brady is a junior at Grand Valley State University and Podcast Director for GVSU’s PRSSA chapter. He is a huge people person and passionate about anything that gets him interacting with, learning about, and entertaining others. He studies Advertising and Public Relations and Public and Nonprofit Administration with a French minor. One day, he hopes to work in international communications or administration.