Vague, poorly written emails waste time, cost money and drive people crazy. They lead to mistakes, misunderstandings and worse. Don’t be part of the problem; follow these simple rules for emails that rule.

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Vague, poorly written emails waste time, cost money and drive people crazy. They lead to mistakes, misunderstandings and worse. They are the bane of modern business life.

Don’t be part of the problem. Follow these simple rules for emails that rule:

  • Shorter is better. This doesn’t mean you should write only short emails; it means they should be no longer than they need to be. If yours is longer than 10 sentences, take a harder look at it.
  • If you really need more than 10 sentences’ worth of content, consider using bullet points. A numbered or bulleted list is easier to scan and digest than a screenload of dense paragraphs. Extra points for ordering your bulleted points in chronological or logical sequence, bolding important words, and using headings and subheads.
  • For huge amounts of information, make a fact sheet. Organizing your content in terms of who, what, when, where, why and how will make it clearer even to you.
  • Use strong, searchable, specific subject lines that clearly describe your content. Sometimes, for simple matters, a subject line is all you need. In that case, consider typing “EOM” (end of message) at the end so people won’t think the body of the message is missing.
  • Make your first sentence your strongest sentence; that is, don’t bury the lead. If you have a request or are announcing a deadline, put it up front.
  • Be clear about your needs/expectations. If you need a response by a certain date, for example, say “Action Required” and name the date.
  • If your email includes attachments, refer to them by name in your message.
  • Before hitting “send,” reread. It’s easy to give a wrong impression. Remember that what you mean as a joke might not sound that way to others. Are you writing to people for whom English is a second language? Stick to standard, unidiomatic expressions.
  • Finally, if you can, don’t send your emails immediately after writing them. Let them sit for a bit and revise them later, if needed. Few emails are truly time-sensitive. After all, if it’s an emergency, you should be picking up the phone, not sending an email.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at wg@karenburnsworkinggirl.com.