How to Become an Email Jedi Master

Photo illustration with a cutout of Yoda, the legendary Jedi Master, with his light saber drawn, against the background of a computer screen showing an email inbox closeup with the words "COMPOSE" and "Inbox" and "Starred" prominent.
Learn how to write the perfect email, you will. Follow the advice below, and the Email Force will be with you. 

Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you are the Jedi Master of emails. You might be a lousy email writer as a result of being a writer, and that’s because eloquent prose is pretty much the email “dark side.”

There are exceptions, but for the most part, email messages are supposed to be concise.

It’s time to learn how to write the perfect email.

Let Me Make This Perfectly Clear

It’s likely that the recipients of your emails are looking at a preview of them in their email program. Will they see how the messages relate to them and why they’re important just by glancing at that snippet of text?

If they’re viewing the email on their mobile device, they may be seeing only the subject line. Even less space to capture their attention!

An effective subject line should have these elements:

  1. A short but descriptive subject heading
  2. An objective
  3. The action required
  4. A due date (if applicable)

Example: Next three chapters due: Proofread by Friday

If you can’t start with a bulletproof subject line, consider ending with it. Write the body first, then loop back to the subject line. You’ve gotten your point across in the body; now what is the brief statement that summarizes it?

Old-School J-School Lessons

If you want to make sure the body of your email is tight and light, take a tip from old-school newspaper journalism: The first sentence of your first paragraph should be a concise primer of what the recipient will learn more about in detail as he or she reads on.

That means compiling Who, What, When, Where, and Why all in the first sentence. You can do it! And in doing so, you can find that you’ll automatically start writing more concise and effective emails.

By the way, in newspaper-speak, that first sentence of the first paragraph of a news story is a lede—and failing to craft one is known as burying the lede. Don’t bury the lede. Respect the fact that people are too busy to comb through your email to figure out what exactly it is that you want from them.

Perform a Little Email CPR

This doesn’t take much time—but it will save you a lot of time. Reread your email and ask if it satisfies the following objectives. I call it Email CPR.

  • Is it CLEAR enough so that it can be acted on without being returned with questions?
  • Does it make its PURPOSE for being sent clear?
  • Is it being sent to the correct RECIPIENT?

CPR keeps your email alive.

Put the CCourtesy Back in CC

Think carefully before you add names to the CC line. It’s not a CYA line.

Covering Your Ass by piling on names to receive a copy is not a courtesy to recipients, and courtesy copies will not help you stay out of trouble.

If certain recipients truly need to receive a CC, there should be no need for them to take action or to reply.

Image showing an imaginary email composed from Dave at Super Copy Editors to yoda@starwars.com, with lots and lots of cc email addresses, such as luke@skywalker.com and many others. The subject line says "Become an Email Jedi Master."
Covering my intergalactic bases

Refrain From Responding With the Obvious

Yes, your mama may have taught you to always say please and thank you, and to reply when addressed. She didn’t mean that to include email.

This is difficult for some people to believe—especially if they don’t really understand the purpose of email communication as opposed to a phone call or personal meeting. However, in general, replying to an email simply to say you’ve received the email, or to thank the sender for sending it, is not only unnecessary but also disrespectful of that person’s time.

Follow this advice on how to write the perfect email, and the Email Force will be with you. Always.

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Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I’m Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than two decades of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes after Hurricane Katrina. Today, I have put together a hand-picked team of copy editors, and we especially love working with ad agencies, marketing departments, and education companies to make their text as polished as possible. Learn more here.

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