writing a great email

Writing a Great Email

May 7, 2020

We use emails for everything. We use email to ask questions, to delegate tasks, to confirm plans and to provide information to people who need it. If parish staff are the engine that runs a parish, emails are the gasoline powering that engine. If your staff follows good email etiquette, the engine hums along. If they don’t, things can get clogged up. So what is good email etiquette for parish staff?  Here are a few helpful rules to writing a great email.

  1. Start by clearly stating the purpose of your email
    Great emails start like this, “Nic, I’m writing to tell you about X, Y and Z” or “Nic, I’m writing to ask you to chaperone our school trip.” Or “Nic, I’m forwarding you an email from a parishioner who had a question about the Fall Festival.
  2. The subject line should reflect the email’s purpose (duh)
    Think of an email inbox like a spice cabinet, and the email subject lines are the labels on the bottles. If the bottles in your spice cabinet don’t have labels, then you have to open and sniff each bottle to see what it is. Do your email recipients a favor and label your emails, so they don’t have to sniff them later.
  3. Be quick to use numbered or bulleted lists
    This is critical if you’re providing important, new information, or if you’re sharing tasks that need to be completed.  Human brains are hard-wired to skim over paragraphs but pay attention to lists. So if you need your pastor to do three specific things, you better not hide those three things in a paragraph. Put them in a numbered list where he’ll actually see them.
  4. Paragraphs should have 2-3 sentences at most
    Sixty-six percent of emails are read on a mobile device. Line breaks make it easier for the recipient to read and digest your email, especially when the screen is small.
  5. Reply to the previous message and keep the thread alive
    If you’re communicating about something discussed in a previous email, don’t start a new email. Go to the most recent email in the conversation and reply to that message. This keeps the conversation organized for everyone involved.
  1. If you ask someone to do something, give them a deadline 
    I confess that I’m terrible at this one. I’ll ask a colleague to work on a task, but then I won’t give him or her a deadline. Then I get frustrated when they don’t do it as quickly as I was hoping! Which is silly, because it’s my fault for not communicating properly. Trust me, you’re doing the recipient a favor when you tell them exactly when you need a task to be completed, so they can prioritize it accordingly. This is especially important when dealing with busy volunteers and pastors.

Put these six rules to use and you’ll be writing a great email.

Did I miss any? Shoot me an email with a recommendation from your parish office and I’ll include it in a future tech tip.