One topic per email, please

Limiting every email to one topic is the best way to ensure your message gets across.

I’ve concluded this after some failed experiments in highlighting multiple topics. I list and number topics in my email subject lines. For example, 1) White paper draft; 2) invoice. This works most of the time, but not always. Some of my invoices have been paid late as a result.

Perhaps this technique would work better if I also listed both topics at the top of the email’s body. For example, I could start with the following:

Attached you’ll find:

  1. The draft of your white paper
  2. Your invoice

Alternatively, I could have discussed each topic under a separate heading. At a minimum, I needed to mention both topics in the body of emails instead of relying on the subject line to do all of my work.

Your solution for multi-topic emails?

I’d like to learn how you handle multi-topic emails. Please share.

Poll: How quickly should you respond to internal emails?

Email is an essential part of communications for most businesses. The speed with which you reply to emails sends a message about your company. This is true even about emails sent within your firm.

2-day turnaround suggested by GTD guru

I was surprised to read that the folks at the David Allen Company, the business of the Getting Things Done guru, has a policy of requiring a two-day response to emails. As explained in “Best Email Practices for Teams,”

…responding doesn’t mean completing the action. It may just be a simple acknowledgment of “I’m on it” so the other person can relax about it.

That seems slow to me, which prompts this month’s poll.

How quickly should you respond? Inspiration, but poor choice for advisors


Financial advisors can learn something useful from, a service that lets people refuse to receive emails more than 500 words in length.

The lesson? Keep your emails short because that’s what your recipients prefer.

Here’s an exercise you may find useful: copy-paste all of your outgoing emails for one day into a word processing file. Then, calculate the length of each message. If your emails run much longer than 500 words, you may wish to revisit my tips in “How can I keep my emails short?”

However, I don’t suggest that you subscribe to Shortmail yourself. Insisting your long-winded clients cut their emails won’t make a good impression, even if it would lighten your load

Image courtesy of Pixomar /

Outlook Social Connector: A cool email helper

Outlook Social Connector

You can see multiple categories of information using Outlook Social Connector

Better email communication results from a better understanding of the person with whom you’re exchanging messages. It’s hard to keep all of the relevant information in your head, or even to collect it in one place. This is why I like Outlook Social Connector, which I learned about in consultant Bill Winterberg’s presentation on “Transformative Technology You Can Implement Today” at FPA Experience 2012. While Winterberg highlighted the tool as an aggregator of social media activity, I especially like its email function.

Email history display

When I write anything more than a simple email, it helps to see an overview of my recent emails with the recipient. Sure, I can get that by doing a search, but Outlook Social Connector automatically presents that information to me.

Eyeballing this history may remind me of something that will strengthen my email. Another tab shows me attachments we’ve traded recently, which is handy if I want to confirm that I’ve sent the latest draft or invoice.

Social media information

I’ve connected Social Media Connector to my LinkedIn account. When I click on an email, I see my contact’s LinkedIn

  • Photo
  • Recent activity (New connections)
  • Status updates

This helps me to personalize emails to the recipient. For example, I may comment on a blog post link posted by the recipient.

Facebook is also an option

Outlook Social Connector connects to more than just LinkedIn. The most noteworthy other option is Facebook. I wish they’d add Twitter. However, LinkedIn, in my opinion, is the most helpful option for business.

If you’re using Outlook Social Connector, I’d love to hear how it has helped your emails, client relationships, or marketing.

Reader question: How can I keep my emails short?

Writing an email that’s short and to the point is the best way to get a response from the recipient. But writing short doesn’t come naturally to most people.

Here are some tips to help you keep your email short.

1. Limit your emails to one main point

Don’t cram unrelated topics into one email. Focus on one point.

For example, discuss the forms that your client should fill out for your next meeting — not the forms plus a client event in three months plus your firm’s addition of a new client relations professional. You’re writing an email — not a newsletter.

2. Use headings or bullet points

Maybe your email is poorly organized rather than too long. Use headings to indicate what each section covers and bullet points to group like items together. These techniques make your email easier to scan. Easily skimmed emails feel shorter to your readers.

3. Use the first-sentence check

The first-sentence check method of editing will also improve your email. Read about it in “Quick check for writers with an economic commentary example.”

4. Cut your email’s length by 10%

Use your word processing software to calculate your email’s word count. Next, delete unnecessary information or words to cut your word count.

Next, calculate the word count again, and cut another 10% of the word count. This is a classic writing teacher’s technique.

Struggling to cut words? First, try to slash entire paragraphs and sentences. Next, look at the helper words in your sentences. For example, “in order to” could become “to.” “We are thinking” slims down to “we think.”

Your suggestions?

If you have more suggestions on how to put emails on a diet, please share them below.

Should my firm insert its name at the start of every email subject line?

You asked plenty of great questions during my presentations on “Writing Effective Emails and Letters.” One participant asked whether a company should insert its corporate name at the start of every email subject line.

I say “No,” as long as the sender’s email address clearly indicates the corporate affiliation. The space limitations of your email subject line, which I discussed in “Don’t make this mistake in your email subject lines!” mean you shouldn’t include information that doesn’t serve a purpose. Repeating your company name in the subject line wastes space.

Does YOUR company use its name in subject lines?

If your company uses its name in every subject line, what’s the reasoning behind its approach? Does your firm’s email address not clearly reflect your company name?

If you missed my email presentation at FPA Experience 2012…

Tips for writing effective emails were the focus of AdvisorOne’s interview with me, which appeared the week before my presentation to FPA Experience 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. If you missed my presentation, you can still get my advice in “Are Clients Deleting Your Emails?” on the AdvisorOne website.

Want to learn more about writing emails that get results? Here are links to some of my earlier posts about them:

Meanwhile, the Q&A in San Antonio spurred ideas for new articles about email, so stay tuned. Feel free to add your own ideas and questions in the comments section.

Speaking of email, if you sign up for my e-newsletter, you’ll receive convenient links to my blog posts in your email inbox.


Email writers, boost your effectiveness with this quote

Think about your reader if you want your communications to get results.

When you want the recipient of your email or letter to act on your information, heed the following advice from Lee Wood, as quoted by Kenneth W. Davis in The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Business Writing and Communication.


…give me the information in the order I can use it.

For example, don’t start by talking about the envelope you’ve enclosed with your letter.

Instead, first ask your client to read the form and then sign it in the spots you’ve marked with a big red X. Only then should you ask the client to mail it in the self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Be kind to your readers. It’ll pay off in better results and relationships.

Want to learn more about writing better emails and letters? Check out my presentation, “Writing Effective Emails.”

Carville’s advice to Romney applies to email writers, too

Democrat James Carville delivered debate advice to Mitt Romney when he addressed FPA Experience 2012 on Sept. 29, 2012. It was advice that I could have shared earlier that day in my FPA Experience presentation on “Writing Emails and Letters People Will Read.”

“Don’t go there and try to make it about five things. Make it about one thing.”

Any communication that focuses on one thing works better than a scattershot communication. This applies to emails as well as presidential debates.

Bring your questions and writing implements to my FPA Experience session

You’ll get the most benefit from “Writing Emails and Letters People Will Read,” my September 29 presentation, if you bring your questions, writing implements, and a printout of my handout.

I will ask you to write down some things so you can work on them in our interactive session. People learn best when they apply new information right away.

Meanwhile, feel free to post your email-related questions here. I may use your questions to jump-start my session’s Q&A. If I don’t get to them in the session, they may inspire blog posts.

Looking forward to meeting you at FPA 2012

If you have trouble commenting on my blog, you may find it easier to comment on my Facebook page. I’d like to hear from you.