Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Write great e-mail

This article is part of a series Best practices for Outlook for Mac 2011. To learn about the specific parts in the series, refer to the See also links at the bottom of the page.

The dos

  • Read your message before you send it.

  • Make your subject descriptive and action-oriented. For example: Sales Team, Please send proposed Board Retreat Dates, where Sales Team is the name of the group, and Please send is the action. Other useful prefixes include FYI, and Action Required,.

  • If action is required, state what you want in the Subject box.

  • Change the subject of the message if the topic of the conversation changes.

  • Keep all messages short and to the point.

  • Organize the content of your message from most important to least.

  • Consider bolding important information.

  • Put action items or questions on separate lines so that they stand out and get noticed.

  • Bold people's names when asking questions. For example: “Ryan: What is the status of the project?

  • Limit the number of people to whom you send a message to those who need to read it.

  • Put people who need to be informed on the Cc line.

  • Put people who need to respond or take action on the To line.

  • Use a signature when appropriate, but keep your signature simple, short, professional, and if possible, free of graphics.

  • If you want an immediate response, don't send a message. Phone or send an instant message.

  • If you are on an email conversation that has more than 10 messages without a resolution, consider setting up a Respond to an email message with a meeting request the issue. Email is not always an efficient medium for resolving complex issues. With the message selected, on the Home tab, click Meeting.

    Home tab, group 3

  • Acknowledge messages that require a more extensive response. If you are too busy to respond with a full answer right away, let the sender know that you are looking into the issue and will respond by a certain time or date. Flag it for yourself to do later.

  • Use High Priority sparingly.

    Message tab, Priority

  • If you are asking a question and there are several people who could respond, choose just one person rather than sending your question to a group.

The don'ts

  • Don't include your manager on every message you send.

  • Don't send a message when you are angry. Better to write it, save it to your drafts folder, and come back to it later.

  • Don't expect a quick response when sending long messages (more than two paragraphs).

  • Don't send a follow-up message less than a day after the first message. If you don't hear back in a timely manner, try using the phone or Instant Messaging.

  • Don't attach flags to every message you send. Your recipients will learn to ignore them.

  • Don't use ALL CAPS.

  • Don't send attachments — send links instead. This rule applies especially to meeting requests, where attachments can contribute significantly to server quotas.

  • Don't expand contact groups (distribution lists). Expanding contact groups (distribution lists) makes messages harder to read and causes them to go into the wrong mail folders for people using rules.

  • Don't use sarcasm. Your humor might be misunderstood.

  • Don't write something you wouldn't want everyone in your company to read. You never know where your message might end up.

  • Don't use cursive or "funny" fonts that are hard to read.

  • Don't use red fonts, because they are hard to read and can be interpreted as being critical.

  • Don't use Reply All to a Contact Group asking to be removed.

Follow up: Flagging on send

When you are sending a message to someone from whom you need a response, do the following:

  • Flag it for yourself on send.

  • Mark it with the @Waiting category.

  • When you take these steps, you know that your next action is to send another message or watch for a response.

    Tip: Reminding yourself to send another message is often more effective than flagging the message for your recipient. Similarly, when you promise to do something in a message, flag it for yourself so that you have a task in your Task list to remind you.

Advice for Contact Groups (also know as Distribution Lists)

If you are responding to a large Contact Group, follow all of the message Do’s and Don'ts.

If you need more information or are investigating the issue separately, respond to the whole Contact Group to let everyone know that you are responding and then reply to the individual separately. Make sure to respond to the Contact Group after the issue is resolved with the resolution. In this way, the resolution can be referenced by other people on the Contact Group.

How to redirect people

If someone sends a message to a Contact Group that you are a member of and the message would be better answered by someone else or another Contact Group, do the following:

  • Reply with the correct Contact Group or person on the To line.

  • Have replies sent to the correct Contact Group or person.

  • Don’t put the original Contact Group on the Bcc line, because your message will not be filtered by other people's rules. Rather, leave the Contact Group on the To or Cc line.

How to be removed from a Contact Group

If you receive mail from a Contact Group that you don’t want to be on, send a message to your network administrator or to the owner of the Contact Group and ask to be removed. Don’t reply to the whole Contact Group.

How to use inline comments

Adding inline comments to a message that you receive is a convenient way to answer questions and respond directly to issues. It is considered a best practice to do the following:

  1. In your message, mention that you are commenting inline. For example, include "See additional comments below."

  2. Differentiate your text from the original message. Some suggestions include:

    • Changing the font color.

    • Pre-pending your name or initials in brackets, for example, [Scott Mitchell].

      Inline Comments

    • Changing the font to italic or bold or both.

  3. Don’t delete anything you did not write.

If you only want to comment on a small part of a longer message, copy that section of your message into your response, using a different color and prefixing the quote with quotes, and then type your response.

When to use Bcc

If you add a recipient's name to the blind carbon copy Bcc box in a message, a copy of the message is sent to the recipient, but the recipient's name is not visible to the other recipients of the message.

Use the Bcc feature to remove extra people from an email conversation when you deem that they no longer need the extra email or if the conversation topic has changed.

For example, if you are one of five people who receive a question and you want to answer it, move the other four people to the Bcc line and write something such as "Bcc'ing Joe, Jeff, James, and Jennifer. Here's the answer…" Future messages will then be between only you and the original sender.

Don’t use Bcc to let a third party (such as your manager) know about a sensitive message. The Bcc recipient might not realize that he or she has received a Bcc and might respond to everyone, exposing that he or she received a Bcc message. This might come across as sneaky behavior on your part.

Rather than using Bcc to inform a third party of an issue, forward the message after you send it.

See also

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Good time management

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Set up Outlook to work for you

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Tame your Inbox with the 4 D’s

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Manage time with a daily review

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Do your work with the help of Tasks

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Find that message!

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Calendars and meetings

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Frequently asked questions

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