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Rules to Better Email - 80 Rules

Often emails are rambling and unorganized, forcing the reader to wade through blocks of text with low business value. When it comes to written communication, less is more.

Having hundreds of emails in your inbox is not uncommon. But it's very uncommon to find people who successfully manage their inbox. Email has a bad name in business primarily because people don't usually treat email correctly.

Emails can be a vital tool to your company and your software development project, but it has to be well managed. Emails should be an accurate record of requests, conversations, and decisions - they are legal documents and should be treated with the same care as any other correspondence with clients or employees.

Here is a series of email rules/etiquette that govern how to better manage your emails.

  1. Do you keep your inbox as a task list only?

    Most people don’t manage their inbox effectively. Emails should be treated as a list to do. As you complete a task you can just delete the email.

    Your inbox should only contain 'tasks', that are actionable items on your list of things to do. Everything that is in your 'Inbox' (including sub-folders) should only be to-do items.

    So do it now, delete all emails you have done. If you want to keep some for reference, move them to a new folder that is not in your inbox.

    inbox tasks list
    Figure: Good example - All inbox items are tasks

    In fact, you could go so far as to say you should not do anything unless you have an email telling you to do it (which is why we send ourselves emails). In rare cases, very simple tasks can be requested and replied 'done' via IM.

  2. Do you send emails for tasks only?

    Email is a very powerful business tool. The main problem, however, is that for most people it is out of control - emails build up until they are impossible to manage. To help minimize mailbox clutter, try these tips:

    • Send emails that contain clear tasks, not banter
    • Don't send emails for chatting
    • If an email you receive is not clear, phone the sender and ask for clarification, then document it in a follow-up email “As per our conversation…”. Too many people reply by email asking for more information, which wastes time and does not guarantee a response.
    • If you speak to them, follow this rule: Do you seek clarification via the telephone first?
    • If you can't get through, follow this rule: Do you chase your Product Owner before he has to chase you?
    • If you are attempting to contact this person out of business hours, consider waiting until the next day, or starting your email by mentioning why you are not following this rule e.g. at the top of your email writing:
      "I am not calling you right now as it is out of business hours..."

    Using your mailbox as a task list also saves you from having to use inefficient paper-based cards to track your tasks.

    Figure: Bad example - A bad email is one that gives no clear action items and will probably lead to a back and forth thread (potentially with people misunderstanding each other)

    Figure: Good example - A good email has a clear task to be done (decision was made in-person or via call)

    Tip #1: It is better when email is not used as your first choice for communication. Of course, if the person is unavailable, you may have to. In this case, also follow the "as per our conversation" rule E.g. "As per the message I left on your phone... I want to make a decision on... My suggestions is..." and detail the questions you would like answered.

    Tip #2: Make sure to number your tasks, if there is more than one, as per "Do you number small tasks related to 1 topic?"

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  3. Dones - Do you reply 'Done' and delete the original email?

    If someone asks you to perform a task by email, don't reply "OK, I will do that" or fail to reply at all. Instead, do the task and reply "Done" when the task has been completed, and then delete the email. This way the person requesting the task knows that it has been done, and doesn't waste time following you up.

    Read the "Definition of Done" for more information about the steps that need to be finished before replying to a done email.

    Only say "Done" when the work is completed.

    • Ensure your changes are live when sending a "Done"
    • If you have added the email to your backlog or to-do list, then say "Added to backlog – URL is XXX". You should still reply "Done" when you complete the task.
    • For tasks that will take time to be completely done (E.g. Producing a long video), you may send a "work in progress" email. This way you avoid giving the perception that no action was in relation to the task. You should still reply "Done" when you complete the task.

    Alternatives to classic "Done" emails

    • If the task is already done, then reply "Already done - the reason is XXX"
    • If you don't agree with the task or are unable to complete the task:

      1. Seek clarification
      2. If you still don't agree or the task is still blocked, reply "Not done - as per our conversation, the reason is XXX"
    • If there are multiple tasks (some "Done" and some "Not Done"), reply to each item individually "Done" or "Not Done"
    • If the task can't be 100% completed at the time, you may reply "Partially done - the reason is XXX"
    • If you have already sent a "Done", then the client asks you to undo the change, reply "Undone"

    Figure: Good example - "Not Done" email

    Tip #1: Say "Done" first

    For clarity, "Done" (or "Not done" / "Already Done" / "Partially Done") should be the first word(s) so the reader knows the status straight away.

    Tip #2: Provide details in your "Done"

    In any reply, include relevant information, such as URLs, screenshots, and pieces of code/text that have been updated. This allows others to check what was done straight away.

    Tip #3: Replying "Done" to multiple tasks

    It is important that you clearly reply to each of the multiple tasks.

    Figure: Original email with the client request

    Figure: Bad example – It is not clear which tasks have been done and which haven't

    Figure: Bad example – It is clear which tasks have been done, however, replying inline should be avoided as it messes up the history

    Figure: Good example – It is very clear which tasks have been done and which haven't. Quoting the original task is only necessary when some tasks are done and some are not see Do you use indentation for readability?

    Extra:

    What do you do with the "Not Done" tasks?

    If there are multiple items of work in an email and you can't do them all at once, reply to each item individually ("Done" and "Not Done"). With the "Not Dones" you should add a plan to action:

    a. Put yourself in the "To:" if you are going to do the remaining items later. b. Add another person if you are reassigning. c. Give a reason if it won't be done.

    Replying "All done"

    If you have completed multiple tasks without requiring additional information, it is acceptable to respond with a simple "All done." However, be careful and use this approach only when the tasks are unequivocally straightforward, leaving no room for ambiguity or uncertainty.

    Make sure all tasks have been done and others can see the history of the requests. An URL is especially useful in these cases.

    Figure: Good example – If multiple tasks are clearly 'done', then replying "All done" is a good way to simplify things

    Tip #4: Replying "Done" to huge tasks

    Ideally, all PBI's should be done in less than 2 days. If you are given a task that is going to take more time than that, then split it by following breaking up monster tasks.

    Tip #5: Don't consolidate emails

    If you get multiple emails or tasks, don't consolidate them. Reply to each email individually as you go. This way the person requesting the work hasn't lost the email history and can understand what the work is done relates to. It also means that testing and/or feedback can come in as soon as possible after the 1st completed task.

    Tip #6: Delete "Done" emails - Aim for 0 inbox

    There is no point in keeping emails that just clutter your inbox. You don't need to keep the original email because after you have replied "Done", there is a copy in "Sent Items". If you must keep an email, then move to your "Saved Items" folder.

    Tip #7: When appropriate, use text instead of images

    Figure: Good example - This "Done" uses text instead of an image so it is easier to search; to copy and paste; and to reply with a modification

    Tip #8: Handle an email once

    Follow a tip from Adam Cogan:

    During my accounting days we had large physical in-trays and you were always picking up papers, looking at them, deciding it’s ‘too hard to do right now’, and then picking up another piece of paper... I learnt that a sign of an efficient person is that they handle a piece of paper once.

    Likewise, when you get an email - don't just open it, have a quick look and close it with the idea that you will go back to it later. Read it, make a decision and do the action. Delete as many emails as you can on the first go. In the same vein, when you complete all tasks in an email, delete everything in that thread.

    Tip #9: Consider alternatives in a team environment

    In a development team environment, it is better to move emails to tracking systems. E.g.:

    1. Azure DevOps Work Items
    2. GitHub

    Tip #10: Include a video when appropriate

    See how to record a quick and dirty "Done Video".

    Tip #11: Remember to thank people - don't be too brief and icy

    When replying 'Done' to a bug or issue someone reported, remember to thank the person for taking the time to send it. A short "Thank you for reporting this" helps to make your 'Done' warmer.

  4. Dones - Do you send yourself emails?

    When a client or coworker verbally asks you to do a task... How to make sure you will remember it?

    The best solution is to send yourself an email, Cc'ing the person who asked you, and including "As per our conversation..." This way both of you know that the job needs to be done. This is really important especially when you are working for clients so there is a documented record of the requests for work.

    Another scenario is when you found something you should work on, but don't have time to do it immediately... you should also send a "To myself" email, Cc'ing someone who is also interested in that task (e.g. The Product Owner).

    Note: If the request is relevant to client work or an existing Product Backlog then it would be better to create or update a PBI and @mention the Product Owner and relevant people as per using @ mentions in PBI.

    postit screen
    Figure: Bad example - Writing yourself a "Post-It Note" is not the best method

    Tips:

    • Make it clearer to everyone else by making "To myself" a heading or bold
      Always add "To myself" in the email body - not on the subject - so that other people Cc'd know what is going on
    • When replying "Done", address it to the Product Owner (or another person), not to yourself... Only crazy people talk to themselves :-)
    • Include an estimate and priority too...so the expectations are set better. With this estimate, the Product Owner can stop you if they think the amount of time doesn't provide good ROI
    • If there are other people addressed in the email, put the "To myself" at the top so the tasks aren't buried at the bottom of the email.

    Figure: Good example - Send yourself an email with estimate and prioritization

    Figure: Good example - Replying to a 'To myself' email showing done evidence and correctly replying to the person who requested the task

  5. Do you send "As Per Our Conversation" emails?

    Always follow up important conversations (usually via phone or IM) with an email that begins with the words "As per our conversation". The intent is to document what was said and agreed upon.

    When possible, go the extra mile and confirm the requirements by sharing your screen with the drafted email, and then add the words checked by XXX at the top before sending.

    Watch the video below and see how a single email can make your job easier.

    Video: Do you send "As Per Our Conversation" emails? (2 min)

    Figure: Good example - Using "As per our conversation" email

    This is not just a 'cover my ass' email. This is for several reasons:

    • To make sure that you did not get the message wrong
    • To keep an audit trail of agreed decisions
    • To keep people, who were not a party to the conversation, informed about the progress

    Use this approach internally and with clients. As a result, expect to see "as per our conversation" emails that:

    • Require a task to be completed
    • Explain the logic of the decision
    • Include URLs that were referred to
    • Can be referred back to in the future

    Notes:

    • This is most likely to happen after a conversation started by the client. If you are the one making the first contact, also prepare, then confirm conversations/decisions
    • Add other interested parties into the 'as per our conversation' as required. 'As per our conversation with Bob, I am going to do xxx'.
    • For a major architectural decision, etc. that could be difficult or expensive to change later, which was made against your recommendation, consider sending a "For the record" email.

    It's easy to fall into the trap of sounding rather robotic if you start every email with "As per our conversation", or "As per the message I just left on your mobile", etc. Here's a list of nice email openers that have the same effect:

    "As per our conversation" alternatives:

    • Thanks for the chat
    • Good talking to you
    • As discussed...

    "As per the message I left on your mobile" alternatives:

    • I couldn't catch you on the phone today.
    • I just left you a quick voicemail.
    • I called earlier but couldn't get through.
    • Hey I just called earlier to say...

    What if they don't answer?

    In most cases, you don't want to be blocked by not being able to have a conversation with the client or Product Owner. In the case where you can't reach them by calling them on the phone or Microsoft Teams, you will have to make a decision by yourself.

    In this case, it's still important to record everything in an email, starting with "I tried calling you but didn't get through".

    Figure: Good example - Email when you can't reach the person by calling

    You should also send a quick message on Microsoft Teams with a brief summary of the decision you made, referencing the email you sent about the decision.

    teams example confirmation
    Figure: Good example - Using Microsoft Teams when you can't reach the person by calling

    Location - include the reason at the top

    When you have an image or other information, remember to keep the main reason text as the first thing in the email body to give it better visibility.

    Figure: Bad example - Reason at the bottom

    Figure: Good example - Reason at the top

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  6. Do you number tasks/questions?

    It is good practice to be clear on what you want. One way you can make things clearer is to number tasks or questions.

    Note: Receiving an email with just numbered items is cold - An email starting with a paragraph of context is much nicer

    Bad example - Tasks/questions may be skipped if the reader does not read very carefully

    Good example - Tasks/questions are clear

    ⚠️ Warning - Avoid numbered lists that aren't tasks

    Bad example - Confusing! The second list above is unnecessary and obscures the tasks/questions

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  7. Do you include addressed names in emails as headings?

    If you have to address an email to one or multiple people (including to yourself), include each person's name as a heading. This helps them quickly locate which part of the email that applies to them.

    Figure: Good example - When addressing multiple people, include each addressee's name as a separate heading

    Tip 1: You can add a heading in Outlook by typing Control+Alt+3.

    Tip 2: When sending from apps/devices that don't allow headings, at least make the names bold.

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren.

  8. Do you know the four standard email types?

    All business emails (that are useful) should be in one of the 4 following formats:

    1. FYI - Used to spread information

      • Daily Scrum - Report on daily progress in a Sprint
      • Sprint Review/Retro emails
      • Sprint Planning emails, etc
    2. Tasks - Used to send direct numbered tasks

      • To Myself - to send yourself a task, and CC interested parties
      • Tasks to one or more other people
    3. Test Please - Used to request testing and/or acceptance of a task
    4. Done - Used when replying to a task, showing details of what has been done

    If your email doesn't fit into one of the above categories, it probably doesn't need to be sent.

  9. Do you ask for small content changes using from X to Y?

    When asking for changes on a web page, Word document, PowerPoint slide, or code, always use "Change from X to Y".

    This process consists of including the original version of the content ("X") among with the changes you require ("Y"). It means you easily see the page or file content as it was prior to your changes. This history is convenient for future reference and also makes it very clear to the person doing the changes exactly what the new file is meant to look like.

    Video: Best way to ask for content changes | Ulysses Maclaren | SSW Rules (5 min)

    Using email for small edits

    Make the changes even easier to see and understand by highlighting:

    • In yellow - Content you want to add/update (only do this on the "To" section)
    • In red (with white and bold text) Content you want to delete, whether it be specific text or an entire sentence (only do this on the "From" section) Note: Only indicate in red the content that will not be replaced/updated with something correlated.

    Note: All text we do not write ourselves should be indented, so this includes paragraphs we are copying and pasting.

    Figure: Bad example - The original version of content has not been included in the email... it is hard to tell what needs to be changed

    Figure: Good example - 'From' and 'To' changes are highlighted... it is clear what needs to be changed

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren


    Tip #1: Microsoft Teams - Use the same X to Y style

    change from x to y microsoft teams
    Figure: Using change from x to y in Microsoft Teams

    Note: Microsoft Teams doesn't currently allow you to set the font color to white

    Tip #2: Microsoft Outlook - Add a style to make delete highlightings easy

    change from x to y saving styles
    Figure: Remember when saving the style to select "New documents based off this template"

    change from x to y using styles
    Figure: The style will show in your styles list to be applied when needed

    Tip: You can right click to bring up the format text toolbar

    Tip: By default, saved styles are ordered alphabetically. Add numbering in their name to customize their order of appearance

    change from x to y organising styles bad example
    Figure: Bad example – Custom styles are disorganised

    change from x to y organising styles good example
    Figure: Good example – Custom styles are numbered and organised

    Alternative - What if there are too many changes?

    Sometimes you have a lot of content and too many changes, making the process "from X to Y" too arduous. In this case is recommended to use Word 'Track Changes' functionality.

    word track changes
    Figure: A Word document with 'Track Changes' ON is recommended if you have too many changes

    Alternative - What if you have a website managed by GitHub?

    Some websites use GitHub to manage their files (e.g. SSW Rules). GitHub makes reviewing changes easy through "Pull Requests".

    Figure: This visual preview of the changes to a Markdown file in GitHub

    Note: When highlighting text in HTML/Markdown you should avoid <font> tags. Use <span> instead.

  10. Do you include the "before" and "after" when you make a content change?

    Your boss asks you to change a page on your website. You discuss it with your team and come up with the changes. Wouldn't it be nice if your boss could see exactly what was changed?

    Always keep a copy of what the page (or document) looked like before you make the change, and reply to the original email with the "before" and "after.

  11. Do you know when and how to send a v2 of an email?

    Sometimes you will need to send a new version for an email. This often is due to 2 main reasons:

    • You received substantial feedback about the email you've sent that requires a new version
    • You realized you've made a mistake and want to send an updated version of an email

    Having an entire new version of an email is important as it:

    • Ensures that you understood feedback and incorporated it immediately
    • Cleans up the email thread history to only have relevant content

    Video: Fixing An Email Mistake with Adam Cogan (3 min)

    Note: Not every feedback will need a v2. Some may be in the form of:

    • Hints for what could be better for next time, in which case all that's required is you take the feedback on board
    • Changes or clarifications to the content, that can act as the latest version of the thread, without needing a re-send

    How to send a v2 (Outlook)

    1. Open your v1 email in Sent Items
    2. Click Actions | Resend this message
    3. Include (v2 - {{ REASON }}) on the first line of the email body

    Warning: Do not add "v2" to the subject as we want to keep the thread.

    1. If the email is a reply, then keep the email history leading up to your original email.
    2. Replace your v1 with your v2 email, as if the v1 never happened (same for v3, v4, etc)

    Note: For v3 emails replace the (v2 - {{ REASON }}) on the first line of the email body with (v3 - {{ REASON }}). Repeat this for v4, v5, etc.

    For appointments, the procedure is different, see do you explain why you've updated or deleted an appointment?.

    Figure: Good example - Sending a 'v2' when you need to make an update

    Note: If all the feedback you received is incorporated into the new version, there is no need for an additional done email. However, if you've got other tasks in the feedback, it may be necessary to reply 'done' to those separated from the content of your v2.

    Tip: If you are doing a lot of these, you can add the 'Resend This Message' button to 'Quick Access' toolbar in Outlook.

    microsoftteams image
    Figure: 'Resend This Message' on the 'Quick Access' toolbar

    Video: Some jobs give no chance for a v2

  12. Do you CC everyone and reply to all when necessary?

    When emailing external parties, it is a good idea to CC the other colleagues within your organization that may have an interest in the email. Some of the benefits of CC'ing others are:

    • It can save time
    • Gives the email more credibility if you have CC'd others in your organization
    • Colleagues may correct your mistakes

    In addition, I often see people replying only to the sender of the email, ignoring the fact that there were other persons included in the original email. Obviously the original sender intended to keep everyone in the loop, so it would be polite to CC everyone included on the original communication. The converse is true also - don't cc people unnecessarily - you're just adding to the email problem!

    2021 04 12 11 22 09
    Figure: Good example - 'Reply All' so that everyone is kept in the loop

    What if the other person drops people?

    Sometimes the other person will 'little r' reply instead of 'Reply All'. It is not a good habit to little r reply aside for when there are any exceptions noted below. This can be problematic as those dropped off the loop are needed as part of the decision making. Decisions will be harder to be made in a timely manner or end up being made without a full team agreeance over.

    At this point if you are still Cc'd, you should reply and add all those dropped from the loop, back into the loop as soon as possible.

    2021 04 12 11 22 10
    Figure: Bad example - 'Little r' reply should be rarely clicked

    2021 04 12 11 30 35
    Figure: Good example - Adding back those dropped from the loop incorrectly

    Exceptions

    • If not all recipients need to be informed
    • The opinions of the rest of the recipients do not matter as they are unlikely to disagree
    • If the original email was to an alias with many subscribers, in general you should not Reply All.
    • Also, if the sender requests a 'little r' reply, then you should not 'Reply All'.

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  13. Do you know how to handle duplicate requests?

    Sometimes you get the same task from 2 different people. Sometimes even the same person sends over-lapping emails. Sometimes you find duplicated PBIs.

    Whether you keep a backlog or are just using your email inbox as a to-do list, you have a choice to make:

    A: Get rid of the duplicates and only keep one (you need to spend time informing everyone about the merge)

    B: Recommended - Keep them all and when you do it, reply to all the emails with your ‘Done’ OR close each of the PBIs. (Of course it is a good idea to relate those tasks by adding links or the email subjects)

    Figure: Bad example – This email will never get a ‘done’ when completed

    Figure: Good example – Both emails got a ‘done’ reply and were referenced to each other

  14. Do you know how to reduce noise on a thread by using a survey?

    Reducing noise in email threads is easy now we have Office365 and OneDrive.

    Sometimes when organising or planning you will need to gather responses from a lot of people, but having many people reply to the email can create a long and messy thread.

    An easy alternative to this is to use Office365 in OneDrive to create a survey in Excel, and then send an email invitation with the link to your participants. They respond in the survey instead of by email, and the long, cluttered thread is avoided.

    Bad Example too many emails

    Figure: Bad example – a simple “X or Y?” question thread generated dozens of responses that clogged up the inboxes of the recipients

    Good Example Invite to Survey

    Figure: Good example – send an email with a link to a survey instead of asking for replies

    For a quick introduction to how to use Office365 from OneDrive, watch this video:

  15. Do you use 'Checked by xxx'?

    There are times you should have your email checked by someone else before sending it. This way you are guaranteed instant feedback and you won't clog up someone else's inbox with unnecessary emails or mistakes.

    Simply ask for that person to come over and check it on your computer or call them and share your screen if the person is not nearby.

    Warning: Don't forget to Cc the person who checked your email.

    checked by
    Figure: Consider this the "four-eye principle" (also known as the "two-person rule" or "dual control")

    Scenarios where having someone review your emails is recommended:

    • You are new to a company
    • Sending an email to a large distribution list
    • You are a little unsure
    • You feel that it is a complicated email
    • Sending a sensitive email (e.g. The content could be perceived as confrontational)
    • You need a quick 'test please', and the person is immediately available. This provides you a chance to check and collaborate on the finished change before the 'done email' is sent. It also shows the email was double-checked

    Doing this will ensure:

    • You avoid grammatical and spelling errors
    • Your message is clear
    • The layout and tone of the email is professional
    • You don’t forget anything important
    • The receiver knows who else agrees with the content

    Figure: Good example - Use 'Checked by xxx' when sending emails that require a second pair of eyes

    Async checking

    The term "checked by" typically implies a conversation took place. In situations where synchronous communication is not feasible, asynchronous methods like chatting on Teams or sending email are acceptable, provided you explicitly mention this in your "Checked by" email. Examples:

    • (Checked via Teams Chat by Chris S and Lloyd)
    • (Checked via Email by Chris S and Lloyd)

    Avoid being blocked

    Waiting for the 'checked by' may slow down your email to be sent... a proactive approach is to ping a couple of people with a message. E.g. "I would like a Test Please, if you have time today call me back because I will be hitting send by 4pm today"

    Be visible

    If you attempted to get a ‘checked by’ and were unsuccessful, send the email indicating who you chased up at the top. E.g. “(I tried to call Gordon, then Adam... but they were not available)”

    When you action a task for adding or making big changes to web content (such as a rule or suggestion), you should run a spelling and grammar checker.

    Once you confirm there are no errors, you may add the content to the site.

    After that, run SSW CodeAuditor in order to keep 0 broken links and other web errors on that page.

    Still not convinced?

    If you need more convincing of the efficacy of this rule, listen to this song 😀

  16. Do you link emails to the rule/template they follow?

    Having standards and email templates is great. It helps keep consistency, and the recipients know the format of the information they’re receiving and so can process it quickly.

    It also saves time if another employee needs to send one of these out later, as they may not know the processes that go into its construction.

    In order for other people to recognize emails following rules and standards, it's a good idea to include something like "<This email was sent as per XXX>" at the end of your email.

    Even when the rule or standard doesn't include an actual email template, but you want to empathize you are following it, it is still valid to include that link at the bottom, so the other person can get easily get more information.

    Figure: Good Example – the email links to the standard it follows

    Tip: If you are following a rule in a presentation, website, software, or even a blog post comment, you should also include a reference to the rule.

  17. Do you know who to put in the "To:" field?

    Make sure that anyone tasked in emails is explicitly added to the "To:" line. This helps them identify emails where they have tasks.

    A fair percentage of people open an email and don’t read who is on the "To:" or "Cc:" lines.

    Figure: Bad example - Mark can’t search for tasks that have been assigned to him

    Figure: Good example - Mark can filter his emails based on whether his name is on the "To:" field

  18. Do you know replying is better late than never?

    You should always try and reply to emails and IM messages within a timely period, but this is not always possible.

    Sometimes people see a 6-month old task/question, and just delete/ignore thinking it's "too old"... or because "the customer will think we're a joke taking this long to do something!" No matter how long it takes to do some tasks, it's always better to get it done.

    Of course, there are tasks that can be irrelevant with the passage of time. You should still reply and state that you don't believe it is needed anymore.

    Always reply to emails and IM messages regardless of how long it takes to respond. It shows you value the sender's input and they'll know their ideas and suggestions are not ignored.

    delete outlook message button
    Figure: Bad example - Hitting the 'Delete' button without replying

    no reply
    Figure: Bad example - A chat with no answer

    Hi Bob,

    Sorry for the late reply

    Done

    Figure: Good example - Getting an old task done

    Hi Bob,

    This is an old one. I tried to call you but you were not available. This still looks relevant so I will start this old task today or tomorrow

    1. Please let me know if you don't want that

    Figure: Good example - Asking if an old task is still wanted

    Hi Bob,

    I assume this is too late now. Sorry I missed this one

    Figure: Good example - Informing a task is not relevant anymore

    Hi Bob,

    Cleaning my inbox... Checked and this task was already done a few months ago

    Figure: Good example - Informing a task was already done

  19. Do you give your emails a Business Value?

    The problem with emailing a task, is that no one knows how important that email is, in relation to all their other emails. So, what is the solution?

    People can send tasks in different ways:

    1. Send a simple email with no priority indication

    Email sign
    Figure: Bad example - An email with requirements does not indicate the priority

    1. Put the task straight into the backlog in the desired priority order, but send no email

    straight to scrum
    Figure: Bad example - The developer does not get a chance to ask questions and refine it before it hits the backlog

    1. Send an email indicating its priority. The recipient reviews it and places it into the backlog, based off the specified Business Value

    Developer entered
    Figure: Good example - Email tasks with a Business Value, allow the developer to review before putting it in the backlog

    The perfect email workflow

    Before you email a task to someone, think about how important it is to you. Then draft your email, add the Business Value using the same scale that you would use to estimate your PBIs.

    Email Diagram
    Figure: Good example - The best workflow for sending an email

    What if you need to write an email to multiple recipients?

    Assign each person a Business Value. In the case of "To Myself" emails, you can also add the amount of 'Effort' required too.

    Email screenshot
    Figure: Good example - The best workflow for sending an email with multiple recipients

  20. Do you assign tasks to individuals?

    Sending email tasks to a whole team or multiple team members is not a good idea because it can lead to confusion and lack of accountability. When everyone is responsible for a task, it can be easy for each person to assume that someone else will take care of it, leading to the task being ignored or forgotten.

    Instead, it is recommended to assign tasks to specific individuals and make sure that each person knows what they are responsible for. This can help ensure that tasks are completed on time and that everyone is held accountable for their work.

    As the old quote goes: “If everyone is in charge of something, no one is!”

    Figure: Bad example - Designers don't know which of them should action the task

    Figure: Good example - It is clear who should do the task

    The exceptions are:

    • If you have a ticketing system, like Zendesk, that automatically adds emails to a backlog, and you have a generic task that could be completed by anyone in the team
    • If you are sending a 'test please' that could have a response from more than 1 person (e.g. When any of 3 designers could approve or give feedback on an artwork)
  21. Explaining - Do you add context/reasoning to emails?

    Sometimes you send an email and get a response saying it's too cryptic. Never assume that others will understand you anyways. When sending an email it's very important to add context and reasoning, and make yourself as clear as possible. This way anyone can understand your content at any time in the future.

    It starts with a good email subject. Then provide extra clear information by adding links and screenshots with useful captions to emails.

    Also make sure to always keep the history of an email, so there are enough details in the thread for anyone else to acknowledge what is going on.

    Figure: Bad example - There is no context or reasoning

    Figure: Good example - There is both context and reasoning

    What if you receive a cryptic email?

    The most productive way to understand a confusing email is to seek clarification with a call.

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  22. Do you seek clarification via the Teams/telephone first?

    Sometimes you get a cryptic email and think... "what on earth!?" In those cases, a quick call (on Teams or a phone) can solve most of your troubles.

    We've all received a cryptic email at some point. Simply replying "I don't understand" is not productive. Call the person who sent the email instead. Chances are if the sender of the task couldn't explain the task well enough the first time, it's likely a voice conversation is needed to clarify the issue.

    Having clarified the issue by phone, update the task by replying to the original email with the new details arising from the conversation. Remember to start with "As per our conversation".

    Figure: Good example - Send this email and now move on to your tasks

    However, sometimes you cannot immediately reach the task owner. In this case, you should try to contact the person a few more times. If you are still not able to contact them, you should reply to the email and state it in the first line:

    Figure: Good example - In case you can't reach the person who sent an unclear email

    What if you need to send a complex email?

    If you ever sent an email and got a response saying it's too cryptic it is because you didn't include enough details. That's why it's important to always add context and reasoning to emails.

  23. Dones - Do your 'Dones' include a URL?

    Always include the relevant URL to your "Done" emails, like when you make a change to a webpage or document. This way people can check the work that was done.

    If you are using a task tracking system like Azure DevOps, GitHub, or Jira, also include the link to the PBI/issue/task.

    Tip: Sometimes it is important to give context and reasoning to your 'Done' emails too.

    Done

    Figure: Bad example - How can we check the task was done correctly?

    Done - northwind.com/about-us

    Figure: Good example - Easy to check what was done

    Done - northwind.com/about-us/ as requested on ssw2.visualstudio.com/Northwind/_workitems/edit/00001

    Figure: Good example - Easy to check what was done + includes the context of the task within the Sprint

    Ensure your changes are live

    Before declaring a task 'done' with a link, ensure that your changes are live and accessible for verification.

    Scenario: PR waiting for approval

    Done - ssw.com.au/rules/dones-is-your-inbox-a-task-list-only

    Figure: Bad example - Link is included but changes are not live yet

    Done - github.com/SSWConsulting/SSW.Rules.Content/pull/0001

    Figure: Bad example - Using the PR link instead of the final page link

    (PR waiting for approval - github.com/SSWConsulting/SSW.Rules.Content/pull/0001)
    Done - ssw.com.au/rules/dones-is-your-inbox-a-task-list-only

    Figure: OK example - Links are included, changes are not live yet, but people are aware

    Scenario: PR approved and merged

    Done - ssw.com.au/rules/dones-is-your-inbox-a-task-list-only

    Figure: Good example - Final link is included and changes are live to be checked

    Ensure others have permissions

    It is a common problem where someone CC'd will not have permissions to see a file and the sender knows this. You should still add the link but inform the recipient.

    Scenario: Recipient doesn't have permissions.

    Done - onedrive.live.com/file-name.xls

    Figure: Bad example - Link is included but recipient won't be able to open it, potentially generating more emails

    (link for reference - you don't have permissions)
    Done - onedrive.live.com/file-name.xls

    Figure: Good example - Link is included and people are aware of permission issues

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  24. Dones - Do you include useful details in your 'Done' email?

    An email with just the word "done" can often be enhanced with a screen capture or code snippet. Obviously this is also valid for tasks/requests.

    In any email you send, include relevant information, such as URLs, screenshots, and pieces of code/text that will allow others to understand what was done or needs to be done straight away.

    Benefits

    • Improved visibility and transparency - The recipients can see the work actually being done
    • Reduced cost of fixing a bug - the cost of a bug goes up based of the length of time taken for the client to ask for a change. If you tell a developer to change something they did today, it is many times cheaper for them to fix than if they got the same request 2 months later (when they have forgotten what it was about)
    • The client can raise questions based on what they see in the code
    • Finally, in the very unlikely case that the code repository and backup goes corrupt, your emails are a backup!

    Examples

    Figure: Bad example - "Done" email lacks details

    Figure: Good example - "Done" email has a link, a screenshot, and code changes

    Tips

    • Use balloons instead of a 'Wall of Text'
    • On browser screenshots, make sure you include the top-left area - so others can see the URL and what browser is being used. E.g. Chrome or Edge
    • If you are using Azure DevOps or GitHub, you should also include a URL to the work item
    • Include a .diff file for greater code/text changes
  25. Do you keep the history of an email?

    Imagine receiving a reply to an email and it has one word: "Done". If the sender can't remember what was asked and the respondent has deleted the history, it's hard to tell what's going on. It's not possible to check whether all questions were answered, or what URL was in the original email.

    A similar scenario happens if someone replies to an older email on a thread that is not the latest. That piece of information on the most recent reply might get lost. Also, if someone else is Cc'ed, they won't have access to all information.

    In summary:

    • Never delete the history when replying to an email! Surely we aren't that hard up for disk space ;)
    • Always reply to the latest email on the thread

    This way others don't need to go back into 'sent items' to find what is going on... which can be very frustrating.

    keep history
    Figure: History can be seen by anyone Cc'ed

  26. Do you avoid attaching emails to emails?

    In certain situations, when you want to include someone in a conversation, you might be tempted to write a new email and attach another email as reference material.

    However, it is generally not recommended to follow this approach. It is more beneficial to reply directly to the original email instead. By doing so, you can maintain the email thread's history and keep all relevant information in one consolidated conversation.

    Replying to the original email ensures that the recipient has access to the entire context and previous discussions, allowing for better continuity and understanding. It avoids fragmenting the conversation across multiple email threads and helps maintain a clear and comprehensive communication history.

    Therefore, instead of attaching past emails, it is advisable to reply within the ongoing email thread to ensure effective communication and a well-documented record of the conversation.

    The exception is when you are already in a conversation thread with important history and you want to add more reference material to the email, although even then it's a good idea to also quote the particular line of interest as well.

  27. Dones - Do you include relevant info from attachments in the body of the email?

    When someone sends you a .doc file or images that are attached when you reply 'done' they (and others CC'd) won't be able to see the appropriate history. If it is a word .doc or an image; open it and copy and paste the text/image into the history, where the image should have been. Don't leave it as an attachment.

    **Warning: ** iPhones strip inline images. If someone has replied to a beautifully crafted email (with inline images) with their iPhone, it will now be a clipped plain text email with your image as an attachment and would not be included in the "Reply All"...Grrrr

    So in such a case, you will want to skip that email and go back to the last HTML email and paste in the extra response. For clarity, add something like:

    "(fixed history to put back images - caused by Adam's iPhone)"

    Related Rule

  28. Do you include clients' email attachments in your replies?

    Sometimes clients will add attachment files into emails. Those files could be documents or images, which may contain details or solutions of the issue, or some helpful information.

    To keep the history, it is very important to keep the attachment files into the email since it's easy to lose those files when responding.

    In case the file is an image, you should insert it to the body of the email to make the history even more clear.

    EmailAttachImage 1 small
    Figure: Bad example - The image is in attachment

    emailattachimage 2
    Figure: Good example - The image is included in the context

    Note: Some clients make attachments because they are using OWA and you can't paste an image in.

  29. Do you use screenshots instead of a 'Wall of Text'?

    Communicating effectively often involves moving away from lengthy 'Walls of Text'. Instead, using screenshots can convey the message more succinctly and efficiently, reducing the reliance on excessive wording.

    Consider the following points:

    • Efficiency - Screenshots enable people cc’ed to check the task by quickly skimming, not needing to click on links.
    • Capture the moment - Tasks can take time to get to, often weeks or months! Reports and dashboards change over time and without a screenshot, a developer probably won't know what the person was looking at.
    • Clear and concise - Screenshots are like the ‘x’ in the useful format of change x to y (see related rules) Make the task as clear as possible!

    You can take screen captures to the next level by adding balloons that have the appropriate text (aka speech bubbles). Sometimes you need only the text in the balloon and no text in the email.The balloon is great because you can point to a specific part of the image. It is much easier than reading the old ‘Wall of Text’.

    Going further, there are ways to improve the readability of your screenshots:

    Tip #1: Avoid blank spaces

    By cropping empty spaces in screenshots, you can make things easier to read and understand. Most times you can achieve this by resizing the application window before taking the screenshot.

    It's like zooming in on the important bits, making them bigger and friendlier for the users.

    screenshot blank bad
    Figure: Bad example – Unnecessary blank space makes screenshots hard to read

    screenshot blank good
    Figure: Good example – Focus on what matters makes screenshots clear

    Tip #2: Add a balloon when you need to point at a specific area of your screenshot

    BalloonBadExample
    Figure: Bad example – The email is using a screenshot so that is good, but you need to read the text and relate it to the image

    BalloonGoodExample
    Figure: Good example – The balloon with text on the screenshot, makes it quicker to understand

    Tip #3: Be aware not to overuse balloons

    balloon overload
    Figure: Bad example – Balloon overload

    Figure: Good example – See 3 balloons were not needed

    arrow example
    Figure: Good Example - Sometimes an arrow is all that is needed

    In other words, you can use:

    • Plain screenshots
    • Balloons
    • Circles or boxes
    • Arrows

    They are all useful depending on the scenario. Be wise and try to make it as clear as possible to the reader.

    Tip #4: Add branding to screenshots

    Follow the rule Do you add branding to screenshots?

    Figure: Betsy Weber Techsmith - Part 1 - Creator of Snagit. See full series here

    Tip #5: Pay attention to the arrow tail

    When you use an arrow in your screenshot, make sure you start the arrow from an appropriate place.

    ArrowBadExample
    Figure: Bad example – Arrow might make people think 'chat' and the direction it points are related

    ArrowGoodExample
    Figure: Good Example - If you just want to emphasize what you're pointing to, start drawing the arrow from an empty space

    Do you know the best tools?

    Follow the rule Screenshots - Do you know the best tools?

  30. Do you avoid huge images or attachments in emails?

    Using screen captures is a good practice - pictures do tell a thousand words - but don't include unnecessarily huge images or attachments in your email.

    When your attachment is too big, you should think twice.

    Avoid large attachments. If you are sending an email with attachments or images that are greater than 1MB you need to consider:

    • Files - Could a URL be better than this attachment?

      • Could I send this as a UNC to an internal share?
    • Images - Could I put this picture on Google Photos or another image server?

    Figure: Bad example - Sending a large attachment

    Figure: Good example - Sending a link instead of an attachment

    Note: An added advantage is that the document stays alive. If the URL has been updated and a user takes a week to get around to this email, they will view the latest version.

    Tips

    1. Reduce the size by sending just the relevant part of the image you need
    2. Avoid .bmp. Use .jpg, .gif or .png instead
    3. If you are sending photos (every year cameras are making our photos bigger and bigger) you may need to resize them down.
    4. If you have multiple files, consider .zip them
    5. SharePoint was built with sharing files in mind and is a great way to collaborate. If you are using SharePoint to send a file you simply need to open the context menu, click "send to" and "email a link" as shown:

    sharepoint file share
    Figure: SharePoint makes it easy to share or just copy the link

    When can you break these size rules?

    Basically, you should be practical:

    1. There is no other way under particular circumstances
    2. To keep the history if the file is already part of the thread
  31. Dones - Do you know how to do a perfect 'Done' (replying to a bug)?

    To reply to a bug effectively and efficiently in your emails, you need to include:

    • Current Status - the bug is fixed (screenshot of working application) or not fixed (ask for more detailed information from the client)
    • Investigation - the reason for the bug, or if you don't know, what you investigated, e.g. checked Windows event logs and found nothing helpful
    • Solution - how you fixed the bug (code snippet if necessary)

    better emails reply bug small
    Figure: Good Example - Reply to a bug showing all steps

  32. Do you avoid replying to all when you are only BCC'd?

    If you receive email via BCC, other recipients are not aware that you were sent a copy so it's actually a VERY BAD idea to Reply All in this case. It's ok to reply to the message you were BCC'd on, but it's not ok to send your reply to the people on TO or CC list. Only the sender should receive replies from BCC'd people.

    This extends even further to the person using BCC in the 1st place. Generally when using BCC, you should always pause to make sure you are doing the right thing. DontReplyAll

    9 times out of 10, you will find that your motivation for using BCC is something less than fully candid... and it's almost always better to use CC or forward instead.

  33. Do you know how to add or remove someone from the conversation?

    Adding someone to the conversation

    If you think someone should be involved in a conversation but they're not on the recipient list, all you need to do is "Reply All", put the new recipient in the 'Cc' field and include (adding xxx to the loop) at the top of the email. to inform people for clarity.

    Be aware it is common to "over Cc" people. Every person added to a thread has a cost, so try to not copy people without a reason. When adding someone, it is a good idea to state the reason why they are being added, so it justifies the cost of their time. E.g.: (Adding Dave to the loop - during the Daily Scrum today it was mentioned he has worked on similar issues and might have some input)

    Figure: Good Example - Adding people to an email thread

    Removing someone from the conversation

    If you need to remove someone from the loop (e.g. To have an internal conversation about an email to a client), include (removing xxx from the loop) at the top of the email.

    Figure: Good Example - Removing someone from an email thread

    Moving someone to Bcc

    Some issues might happen when deleting people from an email thread:

    • The people being dropped won’t know and won’t be able to say "I don't want to be dropped from this thread"
    • The people who added them in the 1st place don't know that they included unnecessary people
    • The others on the thread might not notice the change in email addresses

    To avoid these issues, instead of deleting people from the email, you can move them to the Bcc, including (moving xxx to Bcc) at the top of the email:

    Figure: Good Example - Moving someone to Bcc

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  34. Do you always reply to tasks/questions in the same medium?

    Consistency is key in communication. Always reply to tasks or questions in the same medium they were sent. It's all about showing courtesy, avoiding confusion, and keeping things running smoothly.

    When someone messages you on a specific platform, it's because they chose that medium for a reason. Keeping the conversation in one place makes it easier to refer back to previous messages and stay on the same page. It's a straightforward way to keep things clear and minimize hiccups.

    So, next time you get an IM or an email, remember to reply in the same platform - it's a simple yet effective way to keep the conversation flowing smoothly.

    Tip: When you receive a question on IM (direct chat or @mention in a group chat), make an effort to respond promptly, even if you don't have an immediate solution. Simply acknowledging the other person's concern goes a long way in maintaining effective communication.

    Replying to multiple mediums

    If someone chases you up on IM about an email... when you finish the task you should reply on both mediums. E.g. "Done - see email"

    If someone sends an email that you converted to a PBI, you should reply to the email with the PBI link, so everyone knows where to follow up.

  35. Do you know how to follow up an unanswered email?

    Sometimes the person you send your email to may not reply immediately because they're busy or just may have forgotten about it.

    If you need an answer, remind them by:

    1. Sending an IM with the words "(PING) - {{ EMAIL SUBJECT }}"

    If you still get no response, then:

    1. Reply to the email thread with a PING:

      • Put (PING) in 1st line of the Body
      • Remember to reply to ALL
      • Feel free to include any other reminders, such as "following-up, and looking forward to your reply" or "Need an answer please"

    Tip: Do not use (RESEND) as it may sound aggressive.

    Figure: Good example - (PING) written at the top of the email

    Of course you might use slightly friendlier language following up a client or a third party compared with following up a colleague! If it's really important and you need an answer you might like to consider using the phone instead of email.

  36. Do you keep your writing short and concise?

    In today's fast-paced world, lengthy emails, web content, and instant messages can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate.

    Less is more

    To ensure effective written communication, it's crucial to embrace the principle of "less is more". By being concise and focusing on relevant information only, we can capture the reader's attention and prevent important messages from being overlooked or postponed due to time constraints. So, let's keep it short, direct, and to the point, ensuring our messages are accessible and impactful, even for busy individuals on the go.

    "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."
    Mark Twain

  37. Do you know what to do when you get an email that you don’t understand?

    Sometimes a task will not be clear, or you won't have sufficient context to understand what is required.

    A bad approach is to simply delete the email or to reply with “?” and then delete it.

    What you should do is call the sender and ask for specifics, then reply to the email with an as per our conversation, documenting your new understanding of the task.

    If you can't get hold of the person, email them back asking specifics of what you don't understand.

  38. Do you realize the importance of a good email subject?

    Just as we should not 'judge a book by its cover' - we will not judge an email by its subject. But, we do! Because users get so many emails, getting your clients and suppliers to take notice of yours in their inbox can be quite a struggle.

    Subject: 🕑 6:30PM Tonight! See you at the User Group

    Figure: Good Example - Definitely going to read this email

    Use the email Subject to grab your recipient's attention. Choosing the right subject can give an email a sense of urgency or importance that choosing the wrong subject won't!

    The best way of doing this is to ensure that your subject includes either an:

    • Action point
      E.g. "6.30 TONIGHT! See you at The Oaks Hotel..."
    • Result of a task you were asked to do
      E.g. "Here's the 5 min of feedback you requested from our meeting with Charles Merton".

    You'll note from this that including the date and time in the subject gives immediacy to the email.

    If there's anything to be learned from spammers, they know how to get your attention. Spammers use very tabloid based, or headline-grabbing subjects, to try and coerce you to open that email. But don't make your email subjects tabloid-tacky, instead follow a good broadsheet paper's style of attention-grabbing lines.

    Warning: Never leave the subject blank! It's like writing a book and failing to give it a name!

    Good Subject Examples

    Always use a descriptive email subject to make it easier to find later. Use emojis and prefixes to give context straight away.

    Consulting

    Subject: 🕑 Northwind - Future - Meeting to get your software solution rolling, next Monday 2PM

    Dinner

    Subject: 🍴 Dinner Tonight, 6.30PM at The Oaks

    Bugs

    Subject: 🐛 BUG - Northwind form - Button not working

    Call someone

    Subject: 📱 SSW User Group - This month needs a speaker - Call Tom Howe pronto!

    Feedback on a product

    Subject: 🎨 Northwind app - User Interface feedback

    Test please

    Subject: 🧪 Test Please - Product Name v1.11

    Of course, we also use a structured approach for emails - especially when sending them internally.

    We use the following format for the subject internally and encourage clients and external contacts to use this format as well.

    Subject: {{ EMOJI }} {{ PROJECT TOUCHED }} - {{ BUSINESS AREA TOUCHED }} - {{ SHORT DESCRIPTION }}

    Example:

    Subject: 📧 Northwind – IOP – Customer.aspx - Add email address validation

    The advantage of this is that when you sort by the subject in Outlook, you get all of the emails grouped together, and it is easy to recognize the client/product, because the subject contains the relevant information.

    Tip: When referring to a website, it's a good idea to include the URL in the email subject.

    Additionally, you should be able to determine which emails are the most important. Using a meaningful subject with keywords makes it easy to identify and categorize emails without actually opening them (and it also makes it easy to find them in "Sent Items"). When emails are really important, write IMPORTANT in the subject. Other emails considered important or urgent should have the following in the subject field:

    • BUG
    • INCOMPLETE
    • URGENT

    Other words to be used are:

    • TIMESHEETS
    • INVOICES
    • PROSPECT
    • TO-DO - for tasks pending
    • FYI - information you want to keep around for a while, for yourself or for others (never for a task)
    • FUTURE - ideas for the future
    • IGNORE - for the rare occasion when something is requested and you really don't want to do it yet
    • Product name - Registered User Support
    • Product name - Pre-Sales Support
    • Project name
    • Client name

    Remember: For external emails, it is acceptable to change an email subject in certain circumstances.

    For internal emails, the subject should generally not be changed as it will break the threading of emails.

  39. Do you know when to change the email subject (or appointment subject)?

    Some email threads go on forever... sometimes the topic subtly changes... so when should you change the subject?

    The answer is "cautiously" and early on before there are many replies. The reason is email threading. It's easier to search and find an email when its subject is accurate.

    Remember the importance of a good email subject in improving communications.

    When do you change the subject?

    • If the original subject was too generic, like "Reminder" or "Invoice".

      This is especially common on automatically generated emails, change the subject by adding the client or project name to the email subject.

      E.g. From "Invoice"

      To "Northwind website - Invoice for March [WAS: Invoice]"

    • When the original email topic has been superseded by new replies

      At that point change the email subject to a more relevant description of the content of the thread.

      E.g. From "Field of Study"

      To "Next Years Conference [WAS: Field of Study]"

      Note: If you are the one changing the topic, a whole new email thread is a better idea.

    Be clear to show it was intentional

    When you change the subject of an email or an appointment add to the first line: "(changed subject)"

    SarahPalin
    Figure: Keep your email subject description up-to-date. Sarah Palin isn’t even a governor anymore

  40. Do you link similar threads with similar subjects?

    Often there are two email threads that have separate tasks in them, but that both relate to a very similar topic. In this case, it can be useful to give them the same subject, with a number afterwards to differentiate them.

    Example:

    SSW Rules - Add 'please update this rule' button #1

    SSW Rules - Add 'please update this rule' button #2

    Read Do you realize the importance of a good email Subject? for more on good email subjects.

  41. Do you know when to send tasks one email at a time?

    Do you sometimes find that people don't follow all the items you have listed in a long and carefully drafted email?

    Make it easier for everyone by sending unrelated (independent) tasks one email at a time. Also, don't forget to make your requests very clear.With separate emails, When a person has completed a specific task they just have to reply "Done" to that email, delete it, then move on to the next task.

    Breaking up unrelated tasks

    If you have a list of things to be done, have a second look, you may find that your requests are not directly related (don't depend on each other OR are not to be done in the same environment). In this case, it is better to break it up and send separate emails.

    As per the examples above, if you are requesting many smaller tasks under the same topic, you should group them in the same email. In this case, number each task that you wish to be completed.

    Figure: Bad example - One email for multiple unrelated tasks (domains vs styling)

    Figure: Good example - Separate emails for unrelated tasks. A few related tasks in the same email

    Breaking up monster tasks

    If you have a very large task that requires days of work, it is also better to break it up and send separate related emails. A big task like "Boil the Ocean" would become several emails with consistent subjects:

    • "Boil the Ocean #1",
    • "Boil the Ocean #2",
    • "Boil the Ocean #3", etc

    The advantages are that you get an email history for specific parts, making it easier to include someone else and follow up.

    Tip: Understand tasks sizes by reading how to size user stories effectively.

    Replying 'dones'

    When replying to emails, always reply to each email individually. Don't consolidate them all into one as it leaves unfinished email threads.

    Learn more about the best ways to reply "Dones".

  42. Do you know how to duplicate an entire email draft?

    Sometimes it can be useful to have multiple copies of the same email.

    If you want to duplicate a particular message in Outlook, place the cursor in any of these fields: To, Cc, Bc, or Subject, and press CTRL+F.

    Video: Duplicate an entire email in one keystroke in Microsoft Outlook (3 min)

    Note: This works on Outlook for Windows only. Unfortunately, it doesn't work on Outlook for Mac nor Outlook on the web.

    It will open a new draft message with the very same information as the original one.

    This is handy if you want to ask different people their opinion. Easily get multiple copies of the same email for each of them.
    E.g. Subject: Scrum - what is the best length of a Sprint?

    Figure: Place the cursor into "Subject" field and press CTRL+F to create a new copy of your message

  43. Do you know when to NOT send an email?

    As all these rules indicate, email can either be a blessing or a curse. One of the most deadly of all the potential curses of email is when people choose to use email when it is just not the right tool for that particular task. Absolutely avoid email (at least until you after talk to the other person) in the following situations:

    1. When you want to discuss an issue and make a decision
    2. When you are dealing with a 'delicate' problem

    Figures: a Meta Group survey found that 81% of respondents preferred the phone above email to build relationships, but 80% preferred email generally

    Making a Decision

    If you want to make a decision, asking for opinions via email is the best way to ensure one isn't made. Email discussions get off-topic, lose track, and generally go nowhere, with every email ending with "Yes, but what about..." or "Just my 2c". This leads to a lot of time-wasting.

    You should either pick up the phone or have a meeting to discuss the issue, make a decision then and there, and then confirm the decision via email. The first line in your follow-up email should be "As per our conversation..." This records that a conversation was held.

    The issue becomes even more important internally when you email someone in the next office and ask them a question. This is a great way of creating unnecessary emails. Instead, stand up, walk to their desk and ask them the question. Otherwise, have a folder called "AskDavid" or similar, file all your emails that you need to ask him about in there, and when he next comes to visit you, go through them and get an answer.

    Dealing with Delicate Situations

    Similarly, never bring up a tricky topic with someone by email. It's very easy to misunderstand or misrepresent via email. We always pick up the phone and speak to the person first when discussing important, sensitive, complex issues, or issues where some serious convincing is required. This is the standard we follow:

    • Draft the email covering the issues we want to confirm
    • Call the person covering every issue outlined in the draft
    • Adjust the email according to the decisions made together, adding "As per our conversation..."

    • Send the email

    This way you can review issues together, and, importantly, decisions are confirmed in writing.

    Figure: Are you in the right frame of mind?

  44. Do you prepare, then confirm conversations/decisions?

    Ideally all phone conversations and meetings should be confirmed afterwards so you have a record of the decisions and action points. Meetings and phone calls should have adequate preparation so they are efficiently run. The reality is, after the meeting or phone call, we get busy on the next call. So this is the workflow that should happen:

    1. Prior to speaking to a client, speak to relevant people to help you formulate your recommendations e.g. speak to a developer about the proposal
    2. Draft an email with bullet points for each issue (don't send)
    3. Call up the client (or have a meeting)
    4. Modify during conversation
    5. Send the email to the client (cc relevant people e.g. the developer) saying "As per our conversation..."
  45. Do you respond to each email individually?

    If you receive separate emails, respond to each email individually. Don't respond to a series of emails in one email.

    • Each email is a little job (eating the elephant one bit at a time)
    • You get a steady flow back as bits are achieved (can get a feel or monitor employees efficiency)
    • You can move to 'todo' list folders
    • You get a email history for that one topic
  46. Do you use indentation for readability?

    Written communication can easily cause misunderstandings. Help the reader understand your message better by:

    • Using “>” and indentation when quoting the text from others, like the original email you are replying to, or a web page, etc.
    • Your new text should be kept to the left
    • Add numbers if the sender didn't and it is appropriate

    This way you won't forget any questions in the original email.

    Note: You do not need to use ">" and indentation, when you are replying to the task that is very clear, because in this case extra text reduces clarity.

    Figure: Bad example - There's too much information with no reasonable order

    Figure: Bad example - Even with order, without spacing the text becomes cramped and hard to read.

    Figure: Good example - You can clearly see the context of each part of the reply

    Tip #1: When using Outlook, the raw “>” character may be automatically formatted to a “>” bullet point. This change is a problem because it may change to a normal bullet point after being sent. To prevent this issue, press Control+Z to turn it back into the raw “>” character.

    Tip #2: For those using mobile devices the indentation function is not available, try instead using 3 spaces to indent manually.

    Tip #3: Note the extra line break after each reply... this helps group each question with it's answer.

    Tip #4: Some people also use a different text color in their reply, but this is generally overkill

    Markdown

    When using Markdown (usually on GitHub), use a ">" symbol to achieve a similar result.

    markdown indentation editor
    Figure: Indenting tasks in Markdown

    markdown indentation preview
    Figure: How it looks

    You can find more info about GitHub Markdown syntax at Basic writing and formatting syntax.

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  47. Do you use icons/emojis to enforce the text meaning?

    People may not pay attention to some important words in your interface. Adding a simple and clear icon beside the words will make the difference.

    For emails and web content, using an simple emoji is an easy and friendly way to achieve the same result 🙂.

    Using icons

    validation bad
    Figure: Bad example - No icons to indicate the status

    validation good
    Figure: Good example - Green tick and red cross help the user to know what's going on

    Using emojis

    I join a lot of Sprint Reviews, and there is a consistent problem I see among Scrum teams. The PBIs have limited or missing information. Usually, this is due to unclear requirements...

    Figure: Bad example - No emojis to enforce the meaning

    I join a lot of Sprint Reviews, and there is a consistent problem I see among Scrum teams. The PBIs have limited or missing information 😥. Usually, this is due to unclear requirements...

    Figure: Good example - The emoji gives extra focus on what is important


    See this rule being used on different scenarios:

  48. Do you avoid using inline when replying to an email?

    Replying inline can mess up the history of the email thread. What you should do is to copy and paste the entire email in your reply and comment on each issue at a time, keeping the history intact as per reply 'Done' and delete the original email.

    In the rare cases where you really need to reply inline for a special reason, it's important to write your comments in a different color. You might want to mention what color your comments are in (to make it extra clear). Make sure what you text should always be aligned left, not indented.

    Figure: Bad example - Replying inline can mess up the history. No indentation makes it harder to read

    Figure: OK example - Replying inline should be avoided, but if you have a good reason to, use different colors and indentation for a better readability

    Figure: Good example - Copying questions and answering without altering the history. Include indentation and different colors for a better readability

    See Top 10 Rules to Better Email video for more details on how to reply to emails.

  49. Do you know to always be careful with your spelling, grammar, and punctuation?

    Improper spelling, grammar, and punctuation gives a bad impression of your company and can result in your message not being conveyed correctly. Emails with no full stops or commas are difficult to read and can sometimes even change the meaning of the text. And, if your program has a spelling checking option, why not use it?

    Web Content

    When on a web page, install Grammarly Addon for Chrome so you can automatically check web content. For example, while editing in a CMS.

    grammarly plugin
    Figure: A typo caught by Grammarly plugin

    Any other text can be checked manually. Go to Grammarly, create a New Document and Paste your content to check your text.

    grammarly
    Figure: A typo caught by Grammarly

    Documents

    On Word, press F7 (or on the ribbon go to Review > Spelling & Grammar ) to check your .docx text.

    Microsoft Word has a spelling and grammar checker
    Figure: Click on "Spelling & Grammar" button to check your web content

    Presentations

    On PowerPoint, press F7 (or on the ribbon go to Review | Spelling & Grammar ) to check your .pptx text.

    ppt review f7
    Figure: Click on "Spelling" button to check your web content

    You should also keep "Check grammar with spelling" checked in your PowerPoint Options | Proofing:

    ppt check spelling
    Figure: Make sure "Check grammar with spelling" is enabled

  50. Do you avoid emailing sensitive information?

    Sensitive information in an email could potentially cause harm or damage if it falls into the wrong hands. It's important to be cautious when sharing sensitive information via email, as emails can be intercepted and read by unauthorized individuals. Whenever possible, it's best to use secure methods of communication, such as encrypted email or secure messaging platforms, to protect sensitive information.

    Some examples of sensitive information that should not be shared via email include:

    1. Personal identification information, such as driver's license numbers, and passport numbers
    2. Financial information, such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers
    3. Passwords and login information
  51. Do you avoid sending unnecessary emails?

    Every email you process takes time. Sifting through unnecessary emails becomes really frustrating. Don't clog up someone else's Inbox with unnecessary emails.

    A good rule of thumb for whether an email is unnecessary is if your email comprises of less than 5 words (e.g. "OK" or "See you then") it's likely it doesn't need to be sent.

    "Thanks"

    Figure: Bad example - Unnecessary email

    Merely saying "thanks" is often not sufficient to warrant the email but an exception to this rule is when positive reinforcement should be used when someone has done a specific behaviour that you like and want to encourage. E.g.

    "Thanks for being proactive and pointing out that improvement"

    Figure: Good example - Sending an email expressing gratitude and providing words of encouragement holds value

  52. Do you know when to send a group email over an IM group message?

    Large distribution group emails (e.g NorthwindAll@, SSWAll@) should be used for critical information or emails that require feedback from users. For general information or random posts, reduce email noise by using an IM group (e.g. Microsoft Teams).

    Group emails serve an important purpose in providing information to the entire organization in a way that is less likely to get lost than an Instant Message. It also provides a good method of allowing for a good cross section of staff responses. IM messages are better suited to general comments/information or random posts.

    bad1
    Bad example - No information. Not relevant for all staff to see

    bad2
    Bad example - This should have been shared in a group. Not via a group email

    good1
    Good example - Clearly talks about an outage that will affect all users

    good2
    Good example - Gets the information out to all staff so that they can respond if they can assist

  53. Do you avoid sending your emails immediately?

    How often have you clicked "Send" and then wished you hadn't? It's a common problem. It can be easily solved by unchecking the "Send Immediately When Connected" option in Tools/ Options/ Mail Setup. We guarantee this will save you, one day!

    do not send immediately
    Figure: Don't send emails immediately - you will often remember something you needed to add

  54. Do you avoid using images in your email signatures?

    As useful as email signatures are for promoting your brand, using images in your signatures is a bad idea. To many recipients this can appear to be an attachment to the email. This will annoy some users, so it's better to keep your signatures as HTML or just plain text.

  55. Do you use great email signatures?

    Email signatures are a great way of adding some advertising and branding. You should always use a nice email signature for external emails. Internally, you may use a short one (just your name or initials).

    Full email signatures (for external recipients) are great when they have:

    • A little branding and advertising (can be a tagline or company news), so people know instantly who it is from

    • Your phone number (in international format - it's important to add the country code so people from all around the world can easily add you to their contacts - as per the right format to show phone numbers)
    • Your company website link
    • Your social media and blog link
    • Your IM link (e.g. Teams or Facebook Messenger)
    • Your position
    • Your location (city/country) where you are based

    Mobile Signature

    Use the mobile signature when sending emails from your phone. Mobile signatures are not easily customized so they can be simpler.

    Get Outlook for Android

    Figure: Bad example - The default signature

    Thanks, Adam
    ssw.com.au | +61 2 9953 3000 | Ping me on Teams

    Figure: Good example – Custom signature with name, URL, phone number, and IM link

    PC Long Signature (Big and Fancy)

    Use the complete long signature when sending a new email or appointment to a client.

    This is created in HTML and goes well on emails with Word used as the email editor. Include some product advertising, like what's new on your monthly newsletter. It should have the company colors.

    adam long signature
    Figure: A great long signature for PC

    However, you shouldn't use your long signature on every sent email. It's recommended to have a simpler version for internal emails and appointments:

    PC Short Signature

    Use a really short signature (your first name or initials) or no signature at all in internal emails as people already know who you are. You may want to add a quick link to IM.

    adam short signature
    Figure: PC Short Signature Example

    Note: "Ping me on Teams" is a link that directly opens chat with the person as per Teams Hyperlinks on Outlook Signature .

    Implementation

    Option 1: CodeTwo (Paid)

    The easiest way to implement consistent signatures across a company is to use a 3rd party signature provider e.g. CodeTwo.com and Exclaimer.com
    This way you quickly get great email signatures, with consistent branding, to all your employees and on all their devices. CodeTwo is cheaper and has a nicer design tool UI than Exclaimer, however they are both good. CodeTwo is built on Microsoft technology.

    CodeTwo (and Exclaimer) give:

    1. Automatic signatures are added on any device – from laptop to smartphones
    2. Consistent signatures for every employee as they all use one template – consistency is important
    3. Management via a portal
    4. Marketing can run campaigns and schedule changes to all signatures
    5. Hassle-free setup – users do not need to touch any signatures on any devices.

    codetwo adam
    Figure: With CodeTwo the correct signature is auto selected

    Note the plugin currently does not work for Appointments due to a limitation in Outlook. Rules must be manually changed in Exchange Online to include appointments in the server-side version of CodeTwo. Once this has been configured do not manually copy your signature into an appointment or you will get 2 signatures.

    Option 2: Set it up manually (Free)

    Mobile - How to set it up in the Outlook App

    1. Go to Settings on the Outlook application
    2. Click on Signature
    3. Type your desired signature for mobile

    outlook app settings 1
    Figure: Outlook mobile application settings

    outlook app settings 2
    Figure: Editable mobile signature on Outlook mobile application

    PC - How to set it up in Outlook

    1. Open Microsoft Outlook and go File | Options
    2. Click the "Mail" tab as seen below
    3. Click on "Signatures..." and add in your signatures

    screen shot 2021 10 01 at 11 20 33 am
    Figure: How to add a signature in Outlook

    Browser - How to set it up in OWA

    1. Open OWA (e.g. mail.northwind.com/owa)
    2. Click "Options" on the top right side.
    3. Go Settings | Mail and make following changes:

    owa signatures
    Figure: Add your 'Email Signature' and save

    How to set it up in Office 365

    1. Open Outlook in Office 365 (http://outlook.office.com/mail/inbox)
    2. Click the "Settings" cog on the top right corner of the Window
    3. Click on “View all Outlook settings” at the bottom of the Settings panel

    outlook settings signature
    Figure: Where to find "View all Outlook settings"

    1. In the "Settings" window that pops up, go to: Mail | Compose and reply.
    2. Add your email signature and click "Save"

    Warning: Unfortunately, you need to setup up your signature in Outlook and OWA. There is no way to share this.

    SSW Only: You can automatically have your Outlook signature changed on sign-in via SSW login script.

    Note: This does not setup your signature on OWA or your mobile signature.

  56. Do you avoid using words that make your email like junk mail?

    Outlook by default reads your emails and can flag your email as potential junk email, or adult content email by examining a list of Sensitive words. This list is not available to the public.

    You should avoid any swear words or be using an angry tone as well.

    We have a program called SSW LookOut! for Outlook to check for this rule.

    Contact or bad word
    Figure: SSW LookOut! for Outlook checks that you don't use bad words.

  57. Do you know how to hand over email tasks to others?

    This rule is a variation of the popular "as per our conversation" rule.

    The most dangerous time in a task's life cycle is in a handover. This is the most likely time for a misunderstanding to occur leading to a task getting lost and not being completed.

    Always make sure you clearly reallocate a task with an email to the person who will complete the task like the good example below:

    Figure: Bad example - Task not directly reallocated

    Figure: Good example - Clear reassignment from Andy to David

    Handing over employee's responsibilities

    If you are handing over an employee responsibility using an intranet, you should always talk to the person first, then send an email as an "as per our conversation" email, including a link and copying the important stuff.

    • Tip 1: You should send each task in a different email so they are easily searchable in the employee's email inbox when they need to review the instructions sent.
    • Tip 2: Cc the manager who originally gave you that responsibility so they are clear who they should chase if something is missed in the future.

    Figure: Good example - Clear reassignment from Andy to Mary

  58. Do you know how to reduce spam?

    Spam. It wastes time and resources. In most cases, the amount of spam received by an organization far exceeds the amount of legitimate email.

    E.g. Average volume of spam received daily:

    Total Email ReceivedSpamPhishingMalwareLegitimateSpam %
    14539125794014190686

    From a SysAdmin point of view, using anti-spam protection is the best way to go to protect your company against spam, and, if you are using Exchange or Exchange Online, one of the best options for you is to use Microsoft's answer to this: Microsoft 365 Defender

    There are also other non-Microsoft options e.g.

    • Mimecast
    • GFI MailEssentials
    • N-able Mail Assure

    When using Exchange and the Outlook client (or Outlook.com), Microsoft has an addon "Report Message" which helps users to report spam and phishing emails (This can be deployed by an Admin to everyone in your company):

    When on the Outlook desktop client, you should actively mark items as Junk and block their senders. Do the following:

    1. Select the email | Click "Report Message" | Choose "Phishing" or "Junk"

    2023 05 23 8 57 28
    Figure: Good example - Report a message as "Junk"

    Doing this sends a copy of the email for analysis to Microsoft Defender and helps to train the model that detects Junk mail and Phishing Scams.

    From time to time you may also receive an email telling you about quarantined emails.

    quarantine email3
    Figure: Good example - Quarantine Email - 'Review Message', 'Release' or 'Block Sender'

    Important - check very carefully and make sure you know the sender before releasing an email. Otherwise you may end up releasing an email that you shouldn't. If in doubt call your friendly SysAdmin who will help you to determine if it's safe to release.

    quarantine email2
    Figure: Good example - Release or delete quarantined emails

  59. Do you know not to send attachments in emails?

    How you work with attachments should change depending on who you are emailing.

    If you're sending to a fellow employee, use a link to a document store on your intranet (E.g.: intranet.northwind.com/SharedDocuments)

    If you're sending to a client, either get them to share a publically available link or attach the files to the email (recommended). E.g.: For a Spec Review.

    Internal Docs

    When sharing documents it's best to keep the work alive and the best way to do that is to have it hosted in one place where all working parties can access it. Using SharePoint will also help minimize broken links.

    bad example email attachments
    Figure: Bad example - Don't attach documents to emails when sending internally

    good example sharepoint
    Figure: Good example - The file is shared from SharePoint and everyone can work on the same document

    External Docs

    When communicating with external contacts, it's often easier to attach the file than share a link due to permission issues. This also allows them to share the document internally and always have access to the copy.

    email bad example
    Figure: Bad example – Added the file as a link. This requires maintenance as we would need to add them as guests to Teams or would have to make the file an anonymous link

    email external good example
    Figure: Good example – Added the file as an attachment

    Benefits

    ✅ Clients like attachments

    ✅ They can forward it to whoever they want

    ✅ There is a paper trail of changes and feedback that they can share internally on their end.

  60. Office365 - Do you avoid using 'Share' functionality with tasks/questions?

    Sharing a file is easy when looking at a file. However the email people get from it will have a notification-looking, which may result in it being overlooked/ignored.

    Because of that, you should avoid using that funcionality if you want people to notice and read your email. A normal email with the link and instructions should be sent instead.

    share screenshot
    Figure: Bad example - Sending an email with a file using the 'Share' funcionality

    share email screenshot
    Figure: Bad example - The email sent has a notification-look meaning it may be ignored

    Figure: Good example - Link and tasks sent in a regular email

    Note: It is a good idea to review SharePoint and Teams stats and tell users not to use this funcionality by pointing them to this rule.

  61. Do you use +1 when you agree?

    Usually, when someone makes a suggestion or a complaint... you only hear from the ones who disagree. If you agree with someone, it helps to let others on the thread know. Simply reply with "+1" and a quick sentence.

    Figure: Good Example - using +1 to show you agree

  62. Do you CC your work email account if you are unable to use it?

    If for some reason you have to use your personal account at work (maybe the work server is down) then remember to always CC your work email account for any work related emails.

  63. Manage multiple email accounts - personal and shared company emails

    Sometimes staff may manage more than 1 email box - a personal email and a shared company email. It is important to maintain clear and consistent communication when managing multiple email accounts.

    For internal communication, when you reply to emails from a shared company email account, the receivers may have little knowledge of who sent the emails. Which can lead to confusion and inconsistency in communication. To avoid these issues, we strongly recommend that staff avoid sending emails from shared company email accounts directly.

    Purchase Please
    Figure: Bad example - No one knows who made the purchase

    When replying to emails from shared company accounts, you have an alternative:

    1. Switch the sender to your personal email account.
    2. CC the shared company email account on the reply to ensure that the thread is tracked.
    3. Make sure your signature is correct.

    At SSW, we use CodeTwo to automatically add our signatures.

    Pic 1
    Figure: Change the sender to personal email

    Pic 2
    Figure: Good example - Reply from your personal email, then keep the public email cc'd so the thread is tracked

  64. Do you remember that emails aren't your property?

    The Australian Government Privacy Act permits employers to monitor employees' email (and web browsing) logs. While employers are encouraged to develop and promulgate a clear privacy policy, it's essentially a recommendation. Many employers may not have the resources to develop such a policy, but nothing prevents them from reviewing email records on the server. The Government admits that "system administrators are usually able to access everything on the network."

    The sensible response for employees is to be careful about what they say in email and abide by appropriate usage rules / etiquette even if they don't exist! Follow common sense on this one. Remember that your work email address should not be used for personal mail.

  65. Do you resist the urge to SPAM to an email alias?

    When you post to an email alias, you are posting to many, many people. Unnecessary emails are spam - only send emails that are valid or if there is a need for all to see.

  66. Do you send bulk email via 'Bcc' field if all parties are not contacts of each other?

    To ensure privacy, and not allow parties to get hold of each others' email addresses, emails to multiple parties should be entered in the 'Bcc' field (not the 'To' field).

    Figure: Good Example - Send bulk email via 'To' field

    Figure: Good Example - Send bulk email via 'Bcc' field

  67. Do you avoid using "Request a Receipt"?

    Do you always demand a receipt for every email you send? This is the equivalent of crying wolf. People get prompted about receipts so often, that eventually, they change the settings to automatically ignore receipt requests. Then when someone really, really needs acknowledgment that an email has been received, you never get one, because they've turned off the mechanism.

    Turning this option on all the time effectively throws the option away, not just for yourself, but everyone else as well.

    Figure: Selectively request read receipts so as not to annoy your recipient.

    Warning: If you are using this more than once a year then alarms should be ringing!

  68. Do you use active language in your emails?

    Try to use the active voice of a verb wherever possible. For instance, 'We will process your order today', sounds better than 'Your order will be processed today'. The first sounds more personal, whereas the latter, especially when used frequently, sounds unnecessarily formal.

    Figure: Bad Example - using the passive voice

    Figure: Good Example - using the active voice

  69. Do you know that people misunderstand sarcasm in text?

    According to Sydney Morning Herald's "Flame emails missing the mark":

    "The senders of email messages expected their partners to correctly interpret their tone nearly 80% of the time, but in fact, they only scored just over 50%... Those attempting to interpret the message believed they had scored 90% accuracy".

    Because there is no "tone of voice" in an email, sarcasm can easily be misinterpreted by the receiver. You can use a smiley face or emoji to soften it up a bit.