Email Write Order

Recently I made an offhand comment on the podcast about how I write email backwards. This triggered a bunch of email questions so I thought I’d explain further with an excerpt from my Email Field Guide. Here you go.

Email Write Order

I’ve always had a gripe with email application developers concerning the way they want us to write emails. When you go to write an email, the tab order is all out of whack.

The default write order starts out with you selecting the recipient for your message, which makes enough sense, but then everything goes off the rails. Next, it wants you to type in the subject line for a message you haven’t written yet. Because you haven’t written the message, there is a bit of mental friction between us getting our thoughts together and making a cogent subject line at that time, so we skip it or just leave it with whatever the mail client added (e.g., “re: re: re: re: re: That Thing”).

Next, the application wants you to write the body of your message. Rarely does the application even prompt you to add an attachment, which means about half the time you’ll forget to add an attachment. Because the default write order is all out of whack, so are the messages we often send using it. It makes a lot more sense to add attachments next and then write the body of the message before filling out the subject line and sending. I’ve got an alternative write order that makes a lot more sense.

1. Add Attachments

Don’t you hate getting an email making reference to a nonexistent attachment? Don’t you hate even worse when you send an email making reference to an attachment you forgot to attach?

2. Compose the Message Body

The next thing you do is write the message. That’s the reason you started this whole process. I have some very specific ideas about how to write the message body with inline replies—and explain that later in this chapter—but for now get into the habit of writing the message body next. Also on the subject of the message body, try and keep it brief. Email is a problem for everyone and sending a 3,000-word screed when all you really want is to borrow the industrial plunger isn’t very nice.

3. Add a Sane Signature

Email signatures should be simple and smaller than the body of the message. There is more on this later in this chapter.

4. Write the Subject Line

Finally, after you’ve attached any necessary files and written everything else, make an intelligent subject line.

5. Enter the Message Recipient and Copies

Waiting until last to add the recipient assures you’ll never suffer from premature email sendation.

6. Proof and Send

Read the whole thing one last time and send it off into the world.

Want to learn more about email? Check out my Email Field Guide.