Ideal Email Content / Appearance

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Ideal Email Content / Appearance

Q: I am trying to find a good resource with comprehensive, research-backed guidelines about how to best format e-mail messages and newsletters. For example, color or no color? Type size? Length? Attachments or no attachments? A hot link to more information or not? More and more people are using email in our company, and our internal communications group wants to implement some standards for appearance and content. Email inbox overload is beginning to set in, and we’re certain (afraid) it’s affecting productivity.

Thanks for any insight you can provide!

Jennifer Williams

A: Dear Jennifer:

I don’t personally know of the kind of email guidelines you’re talking about, but you might want to send an email to Shel Holtz at He’s always my first choice of how to best use electronic communication channels. Just some tidbits I’ve picked up in the course of employee focus groups on this topic:

  • Emails should be short, directing people to more detailed information on a web site or electronic bulletin board.
  • The subject line should be very clear about the topic.
  • If action is required, that should be mentioned upfront at the beginning of the email.
  • People prefer having an easy hyperlink to an email attachment; attachments often don’t get read because people don’t know how to download them (or unzip them first sometimes).

Finally, take away the capacity of sending a mass email from all but a few people. Have someone in the communication function become the email editor, putting together a daily, tightly edited email bulletin with headlines and one-paragraph items summarizing all the separate emails others wanted to send. Each paragraph can then have a link to the full story elsewhere on a bulletin board or Web site.

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