How to not overthink writing an email

Many of us can easily overthink email and how to efficiently communicate with others.

We may spend far too much time writing and rewriting emails trying to get it to sound just right. 

By asking yourself a few questions you can have a starting place to more efficiently craft your emails.

Instead of rereading your email over and over looking for the right word to use or worrying if you use the same word too much, try to focus on making sure you hit a few key points.

Use the questions below as a starting point and add to them or change them as you see fit. Create your own set of questions to help you write your emails.

The importance of efficient email

Being able to write an email that is concise, includes the relevant information, and has a clear indication of what is required of the recipients, is a communication skill that is worth spending time to hone.

Efficient communication makes things easier for all parties involved. You have made it clear what you need and the recipients have the information they need and a clear idea of what is needed from them.

Clear communication saves time and reduces the number of back and forth emails as everyone tries to get on the same page and understand what is needed of them.

This is not to say that every email can be streamlined and made completely efficient, but there are ways to be more clear in your communication with others.

Just think of how much easier it makes your job when you get an email that is easy to read and has a clear point and a clear ask of you.

As you write your email it can be useful to think of what you would want if you were on the receiving end. What would be most important for you to have in an email?

What is the point of the email?

Why are you writing this particular email to these particular people.

Summarize for yourself what you are trying to get across with the email you are sending.

Is it informational? Maybe your email it to keep others in the loop about something upcoming or a change that is happening.

Do you need their input? Maybe there is a document you need them to review or you want to see if you can take a project in a new direction.

Do you have a question you need them to answer? Maybe there is information you need from them for you to be able to continue your work.

Summary Examples

Example A – New Project: I’ve finished the first draft of the project summary, but I need others to review it and add comments before it gets finalized.

Example B – New Process: This email is purely informational. There is a new process for downloading and sharing data and I want all the people on the email to be aware of the change because this is part of their daily work.

What background information is needed?

Think about what information to include to ensure the email makes sense. Giving people the information they need or pointing to where they can find it makes things much easier for those you are corresponding with.

Maybe you’ve already had a meeting or communicated on the topic, so there might not be much needed. Or maybe this is the first time you are introducing this information. Think about what background information the recipients have and need.

If your email is more than informational – you have an ask of others – and you need more than a paragraph or two of background information it might be helpful to have a meeting or call first to get everyone on the same page.

If this email is meant to serve as the background before a meeting, this may be a time to include more information and perhaps links to where people can find additional information.

If this is a topic all recipients are familiar with, consider a few short lines of context and background before going into what you need from others.

Background Examples

Example A – New Project: This is the first draft of a project summary so the background I am including is why this project is needed, the scope of the project, and my vision for where I see this project going.

Example B – New Process: Since this email is just information on a new way to do a process that people are already familiar with I don’t need to add much background other than referencing the old document that will be replaced with this new document.

What is the ask?

Think about what response you are looking for from the people you are sending the email to. Form your question or questions around what specific information you need.

If this is background information before a meeting – the ask may be for people to review it and get ready to discuss/come with questions.

If this informational – The ask may be for people to let you know if there are any questions.

If there is a question that needs answered – The ask may be for someone to provide an answer.

Ask Examples

Example A – New project
What else do you want to know about the project before I proceed?
Is there anything else I should include in the project?
Is there anyone else I should work with on this project?

Example B – New Process
Are there any questions on this new process?
Would it help to schedule a time to meet with the team to go over the new process?
Are there any concerns about how this process will affect your work?
What help do you need to be able to implement this new process?

What is the deadline?

Even when things don’t have a specific deadline it can help to give people a date by which you are looking for a response.

By giving someone a date they can more easily fit it into their schedule and list of priorities. It’s no longer just something that needs to get done but something that needs to get done by a specific time.

When coming up with a date to give people first think of your own timeline. If you need feedback by a certain date because you are finalizing a project, make sure people know the date by which they need to get back to you, not the date you are finalizing the project.

If you are asking a general question and there isn’t a specific time by which you need the answer, think about asking people to get back to you in a week. This gives people enough time so they don’t feel rushed, but it’s not so long that is can fall off their radar. You will know your work environment best so adjust the timeline as you see fit.

Make sure to give people a specific date (such as “by close of business on Monday the 24th”) by which you are looking to hear back and not just ask to hear back in a few days or sometime next week.

Deadline Examples

Example A – New Project
I am looking to finalize this project in 3 months. I am currently in the beginning stages but don’t want to put too much work in before I hear from others about the direction I am going in. I am sending an email on a Monday so I will ask to hear back by close of business on Friday.

Examples B – New Process
Because this is a process that most staff are using everyday I want to make sure they look over it and understand the new process as soon as possible. I am sending the email out on a Monday so I will ask for people to get any questions to me by Wednesday as the process is going into effect on Friday.

Final thoughts

The questions above are just a starting point, you can build off of those or choose completely different ones that better suit your needs.

For overthinkers, there isn’t always going to be easy way to us to stop or slow down our thinking. But, by having a place to start it means you have something to ground you as you work on crafting an email.

When you get stuck, when you’ve reread it seven times and can’t quite figure out if it is right, go back and ask yourself the questions.

If you find yourself getting stuck or caught up in a detail, look back at what you put as the summary when asked what’s the point of the email? Use that as a way to ground your thoughts to get back to the key of why you are writing the email. Then go back through the other questions you have and see if you have incorporated them into the email.

If you’ve hit all the key points, give yourself one more read through and then send the email.

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