Mastering the Basics of Project Management: Writing Better e-mails

Project managers are a very special breed of people. They are in much demand and will be increasingly so as the need for effective technologists continues to soar. Good technology project managers are trained, not born. They develop skills through experience and education. They become better project managers each time they successfully deliver a project. They learn new techniques and apply them on their projects. They learn lessons— sometimes the hard way — to be better managers in the future.

Leading people – the experiential side of project management – is as important as task-based skills according to project managers in Europe, the Middle East, India, America and Australasia.In recent research they said that communication is a critical skill for project success, both for keeping team members up-to-date and for winning the support of key stakeholders. Know how to write effective e-mails can make things easier for you. Let’s see how to do this.

The Internet has changed a lot of things within the business world, including business correspondence. Where once traditional, formal business letters were normal, quick business emails now rule the day. The ease and informality of the Internet often makes it seem we can write business e-mails poorly and get away with it; yet, it’s actually the contrary. Because email is so accessible, people receive that much more of it and disregard anything less than perfect. Your business email must stand out from the junk. The following tips will help you create concise, engaging business emails for any purpose.


The human eye reacts differently to a computer screen than a piece of paper, so how you format your email is vital. Use short, succinct sentences that get to the point immediately; remember, your goal here is to dispense important information, so give that to the reader right up front. Always include a greeting and a signature, and use as many line and paragraph breaks as possible; this makes the email easier to read. And resist the urge to write a book. Business emails are better off short; the equivalent of a page or so is sufficient.


For better or worse, the Internet breeds a nasty habit of informality. It’s okay to be slightly informal with your email (people tend to expect it lately), but don’t write as if you’re talking to your mother or best friend. You need to strike a balance between traditional formality and e-mail informality. Think about your recipient and how they’d most likely write an email. What words would they use? Would slang or jargon offend your readers? Use these considerations to create a concise, customized email.


Informality, whatever its root, does not excuse grammatical errors, and these can damage your email. Grammatical errors show that you didn’t put much time into your business email and you probably don’t care much about your message. Go through your email carefully to make sure you have spelled correctly, and you have fixed all grammar and punctuation mistakes. Remove all redundancies and get rid of any clichés. Recipients, especially professional business people, will appreciate your attention to details and they will respond better to your message when no errors exist in your email.


Since email is an immediate medium, and a highly accessible one at that, it’s far easier than in paper letters to request a response — and far more likely that you’ll get one! Before signing off with your signature, be clear about what you want the recipient to do. Need a response via phone or with certain information attached? Say so! Your recipient will have a difficult time responding if they have no idea what you want from them. But remember: be polite when requesting action. There’s little worse than an overly forward or pushy ending.

Formatting Your E-mails

Before considering formatting, it is important to recognize that some people (very few) only get e-mail in a basic format (known as plain text). This means that they don’t see any colors, bold text, italics, active hyperlinks or images.

Most people can now receive “HTML” e-mail. This allows all sorts of formatting to be used. Some people abuse this, and put in icons, flashing text, photos and all sorts. This can just make messages look childish.

However, when use correctly, there are various formatting techniques that can help get your message across.

Bold should be used to highlight the key points of your message. Use the Under 10 Rule for bold (no more than 10% of your total text should be in bold, and no more than 10 words in a row). So, don’t put full paragraphs in bold.

Italics should be used to explain how to speak the text (which words to emphasize – e.g. “Do you really want me to do that?”) and also for books, and names of things.

Avoid underlying text, because it gets confused with hyperlinks.

Use larger text for headlines.

Use color carefully and rarely – you should only use red and green. Red for things that are vitally important, warnings, or that something is wrong. Green for things that are okay, passed or within acceptable limits.

Many e-mail programs block images from automatically showing, so the receiver may not even see the message as you intended. If you want to include a photo or image, just attach it to the e-mail and say “see attached photo” in the text.

To, Cc and Bcc

You should always make sure you e-mail the right people, in the right way. The To, Cc and Bcc fields allow you to indicate how your message should be read by the people that receive it.

The To field is for people that the message directly affects, and that you require action from. If you expecting someone to do something, they should be in the To field.

It’s also a good idea to include all the people you put in the To: field in your opener line. This lets the others know who is involved in the conversation.

Hi Bill, Ted, Mary, Suzy,

If you are sending to more than four people, don’t bother with this and just start with Hi all or Hello team.

The To field can be used for as many addresses as you like – some people mistakenly think the Cc line is for multiple addresses.

The Cc (or carbon copy) field is for people you want to know about the message, but are not directly involved. It’s mainly for people thatdo not need to act or reply to the message, but to keep them informed.

For those of you born after the 1980’s, the term “Carbon Copy” comes from when typewriters were used to write letters. You would put two pieces of paper in a typewriter at the same time, with a piece of carbon paper in between. The letters would press through the carbon paper, leaving an extra copy of the text on the sheet at the back.

The CC field can be used for a number of reasons.

  • It keeps other people “in the loop” on certain issues (often used to keep managers up to date on issues).
  • It lets people know if they are expected to take action, or if they are just being informed.
  • It allows you to make the receiver aware that other people know what is going on (in case you want them to take the content more seriously, or treat it as more important or urgent).

Finally, the Bcc field (Blind Carbon Copy) is used when you want other people to receive the message, but you don’t want the other recipients to know they got it.

When people get an e-mail, they’ll also see all the people in the To and Cc lines – but not Bcc. One good use of Bcc is when sending an e-mail to hundreds of people. You don’t want them all to see each other’s e-mail addresses so you use this field, rather than the To or Cc lines.

That’s It! With those simple tips, I think you will write better and more effective e-mail messages and do you manager job a little less stressful.

7 thoughts on “Mastering the Basics of Project Management: Writing Better e-mails

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