Email Correspondence Rules

When I started my career as a developer, I faced that I should do more than just writing code. I needed to communicate to other people including teams and customers in other countries and even on different continents.

Skype and Slack didn’t exist at that time. An email was our primary tool for communication.

When I was writing a response to a business email for the first time, I realized that I had no idea how to do that. Luckily for me, Google did exist in 2006.

In a couple of months, I created a guideline for email correspondence. Please find a few rules from that guideline:

  1. Subject is a must that should explain email purpose
Some prefixes are widely used in subjects in email correspondence:
MFU – meeting follow up
OOO – out of office
FYI – for your information
SIN – service interruption notification
ASAP – as soon as possible
  1. Format
    1. Use “inverted pyramid” principle: put an idea and/or a goal  first and add details later
  1. Create 5-6 lines paragraphs
  1. Add empty lines between paragraphs
  1. Use subtitles, bullets, formatting 
  1. Brevity
Your communication should be long as necessary. Never longer. You can lose someone when your message isn’t clear and concise.
  1. Propose actions and timeline
It should be clear to the recipient:
  • what is the goal of the email
  • what do you need the recipient to do 
Put yourself in recipient’s position and imagine what questions she can have.
  1. Ask Yes/No questions
 When you ask an open question, that requires more time and effort than yes/no/a/b/etc, there is a risk that you would never get a response. The recipient most likely will mark the email with a flag to act on it later. But it might be too late.
Nothing personal, most likely you would do the same thing once you start receiving hundreds of emails per day.
  1. Remember, that people don’t read all emails they get
Nothing personal, people often just don’t have time to read all emails they receive.
  1. Add facts only, don’t add all events and insignificant details
  1. Highlight FYI emails
If you need to send an informational email with no response required:
  • add FYI to the subject
  • mark email as “Low Priority”

If you doubt what to write, google it. You would find tons of template for emails on the internet.

Good luck!


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