How to Write Emails that Don’t Suck

How to Write Emails That Don't Suck

Hello person from whom I want something but haven’t done my research and as a result called them by their last name instead of first,

I thought I would invite myself into your inbox to inform you about something really, really important. It’s going to be hard to decipher exactly what that is initially (you’ve got time though, right?) because I am going to spend the first few sentences dropping platitudes like “hope everything is splendid on your end” and “here’s to a great new year”. Then I’m going to waffle on about resolutions or something topical, trying to be hilarious and relatable for a few more sentences but probably either offend you or fail to make any sense. Then I’ll get to what I am actually here to do, which is the important part of the email, only 35 sentences in. What was that again? Oh, yeah. Sell you something. The reason you should buy this thing I am selling is because it helps you with this problem that I am telling you that you have. I’m going to be very vague about all of these details though because you don’t actually need it and I’d hate for you to use your human deductive reasoning to figure that out. Alternatively, I could just use a whole bunch of jargon to confuse you into buying it. Maybe I’ll do a combination of both things and annoy you into buying it.

Well, hope this wasn’t a complete waste of your time. But if it was you can simply unsubscribe below through the button in microscopic text that will take you to a 41-stage questionnaire impossible to click out of, so I can glean exactly how I pissed you off. Don’t forget to forward this to your friends!

If reading that felt like a cheese grater on your face then it’s likely because it’s the 8th chunk of text you’ve read similar to it today. Terrible emails are part of the privilege of having an email address. But terrible, annoying and generic emails don’t convert to sales, whether it’s a product or yourself you’re selling. Nine times out of ten, a poorly written email ends up having wasted equal amounts of time for the sender as for the recipient. That’s hardly getting anyone paid.

We live in the digital age, so we best be learning how to make emails count. It doesn’t take much to set yourself apart from the flurry of tragically written e-communication bouncing around in the cybersphere but it will make a difference. Here are some of my personal rules for writing emails that (hopefully) don’t suck:

Don’t waste time with lengthy explanations
When a person’s inbox fills up faster than an upside down scooter helmet during a flash storm they’re looking for any excuse not to finish what they start.  A novella-esque email that explains in intricate detail something that could be summed up in a few short sentences is the perfect reason to hit selectàtrash.

If your email is starting to resemble the script for the Titanic, then reconsider whether or not is it in fact an email-thing. Maybe it’s a phone call, or a meeting, or a 4-day conference.

Don’t waste time with cliché pleasantries
There are a few that won’t get you far:

“Hope you’re well…”
No, you don’t. You just hope they read your email and give you what you want with haste. Don’t chew up precious word count with small talk and cliché addresses that sound like they’ve been blasted out to everyone.

“Just checking in…”
Again. No, you’re not. In most cases, you want something specific or you’re chasing a reply you’re owed. Be honest and adopt a less formulaic approach: “Floating this to the top of your inbox again…”

“Sorry to bother you… / I could be completely wrong here but…”
Are you really sorry? Do you really think you could be wrong? Limiting the impact of your words in any business transaction is a big NO-NO. In emails, where doing so takes up space, it’s a HELL-NO. Apologising for something you’ve already, and intentionally, done, i.e. “Sorry to bother you”, is redundant. Jump straight into the guts of your email and if you absolutely must couch your confrontations in words of acknowledgment, do it with: “I appreciate you’re time on this” or “Happy to discuss further at your earliest convenience.”

Don’t waste time with anything fancy or arty
In your standard person-to-person email don’t include crazy fonts, bright colours or anything that hinders the recipients ability to decipher what you want within 30 seconds.

FYI: it is completely appropriate, if not helpful, to include sub headings in emails. If you are pitching an idea to someone use emboldened headings so they can swiftly pick out the information most important to them, i.e. Why Your Customers Will Care, Why I’m The Person For The Job etc. Just keep it slick and legible and nothing like your first Myspace page.

Don’t send large attachments
These will a) likely never make it, or b) clog your recipient’s inbox and piss them off. Try Dropbox with a link, a zip file or WeTransfer.

Don’t overuse grammar
Too many exclamation points read like you’ve just had your first vodka redbull and, in a professional setting, look immature. Be careful of how much information you attempt jam into a single sentence. If you constantly have to deploy parenthesis or dashes then you’re likely trying to say too much at once. Get. To. The. Point.

Don’t use sarcasm or irony
In the business world business people love to be taken seriously. A bit of lighthearted banter to make correspondence sound personalised doesn’t go astray but humour via email is like humour via Tinder: unless it’s overtly grotesque it usually won’t translate. Be mindful of where you inject comedy, satire or irony and if you’re even marginally in doubt about the hilarity of your written communication, 86 all the jokes and keep it professional until you have a stronger rapport.

Don’t make promises you can’t live up to
Everyone is busy and appreciates a bit of flexibility but try to avoid presenting yourself as far more available than you actually are. Don’t grovel with “I’m open to meet any time next week” then when the reply reads “Great, 2PM Wednesday?” go on to type “Oh, sorry. I am free… just except for Wednesday afternoon, before midday Thursday and all day Friday.” If you’re trying to tee up a meeting via email evade the game of virtual-tag by clearly specifying your availabilities in the first leg of correspondence.

Short of just sending all of your clients or customers GIFs and hoping they can decode the meaning, you’ve got to actually include something of substance in your emails. Here are some general tips on email etiquette and to-dos.

Provide a call to action
“Click on this link to schedule your first free 15-minute consultation.”
Careful not to bury this too deep. Think of writing your email backwards and leading with your call to action. The rest of the details can flow after that.

State if no reply is required
“You’re kindly welcome. No reply necessary.”
What a wonderful gift! Especially for the guy with 378 emails unread.

If a reply is needed, give a sense of urgency with a deadline and a notice
“If I do not hear back from you by COB Thursday 3rd April, your place in our program will be offered to a reserve.”
When you’re trying to run a business, sometimes you’ve got to lay down the law. This gives the recipient an easy (albeit lazy) out and, if any decisions hinge on their reply at least you’ve given yourself an exact timeframe to make them within.

Follow up
“Floating this back to the top of your inbox…”
Works every time.

Consider when you send
9AM on a Monday is a terrible choice. Monday is the busiest time in most people’s inboxes (and a generally hard-to-be-alive kind of time) so you’ll shoot yourself down the line of urgency by competing with everything else that has come in over the weekend. The best time to send an email is Tuesday after lunch. If you’re sending internationally make sure you work out the respective time differences. Duh.

So there you have it. Wishing you and your gmail account a prosperous 2019! May karma be kind and your inboxes influxed with as many engaging emails as you send outwards. Oh, and if you’re ever in doubt, feel free to enlist this helpful little template: 

Hey [name spelled correctly],
I know you’re busy so I’ll keep this short.

I’d like to humbly suggest something to make your life easier. I know your inbox often gets chaotic with things you didn’t invite in and don’t remember giving your address to. It could have been that drunken night out or that time you bought a phone case off Instagram, but either way, you deserve your privacy. The inbox vacuum is a great tool for decluttering your personal space and keeping your digital anxiety at bay. It’s just $4.99 and sucks the inconsiderate, poorly worded and utterly unhelpful crap from your inbox, before it sucks the life out of you. Think of it like your personal cyber security guard, but way cuter.

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 That’s all from us! Happy admin-ing!




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