Do you have a lot of email ping-pong, where emails go back and forth many times – too many times?

Are you aware about the brand of you, that you communicate with your email style?

Is email your default communication tool?

Then this episode is for you. We have researched various articles on good email writing copies and distilled the best for you in this episode.

By listening to this episode, you will learn about:

  • When is email the best way to communicate?
  • Approaches to attachments.
  • How to take care of your style?
  • How to structure your emails?
  • About different email cultures
  • Simple actionable tricks to improve your effectivity directly


How to write impactful and effective emails while avoiding common mistakes

Welcome to the Effective

The weekly podcast for statisticians in the health sector designed to improve your leadership skills, widen your business acumen and enhance your efficiency. In today’s episode number 7 we’ll talk about how to write impactful and effective emails while avoiding common mistakes.

This podcast is sponsored by PSI, a global member organization dedicated to leading and promoting best practice and industry initiatives for statisticians. Learn more about upcoming events at

Today, we are talking again about emails like in the last episode. In the last episode, we talked a lot about managing emails. And in this episode, we will actually more focus on writing good emails. And I’m, as usual, together with my co-host, Benjamin Pisker. Hi, Benjamin. Hello, Alexander. Nice to talk to you again. Yeah, let’s see what we talk.

about today. I mean, as you said, writing emails. So last time I asked you the question of how many emails you receive, but the question now is how many emails do you write per day? I actually have no clue. Probably far too many. But it’s, I’m trying to…

very often think twice before I send an email and ask myself whether sending this email is actually the best and smartest way to get the communication across. So you mean that you would consider other options like picking up the phone or chatting or just walk over to meet the person? Yeah. So there are so many different communication channels. And

I think sometimes we are so much in the habit of writing and reading emails that we forget about these other channels. Sometimes things are not that urgent and you can just put it on a list of an upcoming meeting to address there. You can just want a quick info to move forward. And then maybe a chat is a…

better option to get things done. Hmm. No, I understand. But people tend to, and including myself, I think when email was getting more and more important, I think I reduced the time that I spent on the phone, not on the teleconferences, but on the phone just to pick up the phone to talk to people and really communicate or ask questions or give answers.

That’s really what I realized once in a while, that the email, I spent far more time on emails automatically instead of picking up the phone. Yes, because it’s also sometimes I think it’s very easy to get rid of something, to just not worry about a certain topic and to tick the box off.

and that maybe kind of have a short relief in terms of the burden but not really help with the overall burden over a longer period of time. What I think is that email is quite, as we talked about managing emails, incoming emails, you can’t manage the incoming call in terms of if you receive the call, you either take the call or not. But this is not managing. This is just a yes-no question.

And then therefore, I think what I realized is that if I get a call, it’s usually not the right, you know, it disrupts your work. It’s as you know, as when you’re in a supermarket and just, you know, at the end, you know, we just put everything on the, you know, you don’t have both hands are not free. And the phone call on your mobile for whatever. That’s the typical situation. I think if you get a call, calls are that’s why I prefer to write emails because I think that people

are busy with their work, with their things to do. And that’s why they would be surprised and wouldn’t fit in the time schedule or in the situation itself currently to pick up the phone because I’m calling. So I think this is my reason why I prefer to write emails instead of picking up the phone.

For example, with my direct reports, weekly one-to-ones, as I think everybody should have said. And very often, topics are not that urgent, that they need to be resolved within a day or two. It’s completely fine to resolve them at the next upcoming meeting. And…

that is not interfering. The other option is kind of sometimes to contact people quickly via chat and say, do you have five minutes? Of course, that’s a little bit distracting, but it’s something in the middle of directly calling.

you very often can see whether people are, for example, in a different meeting or, you know, are set on do not disturb or things like this. So from that end, you get a little bit of a feeling of whether it’s okay to contact people. But anyway, we’re talking about writing emails, not to not write emails. So that’s why going back to what is…

the most important thing for you if you write an email? What would you put on the highest priority to be aware of or to consider when you write an email? I think the overall most important way is to have in mind that you want to write the

a problem at hand very effectively for you as well as for all the others. So I mean that you have a clear writing, clear options or clear questions or whatever. Yeah, I think the first is you need to be clear in your mind what you want to achieve with this email. I think that’s the first.

most important thing. If you just go into this email like, oh, what I want to need, and you write and write and write and kind of, you know, if you don’t know what you actually want to achieve, then very often these emails become very fuzzy and confusing and probably more distracting and not helping to move along.

have a clear goal with the email. Yeah, and then kind of I think it’s important to structure things in the right way. Okay, so when you write emails, what are actually the most important points for you to consider? So what is the most important thing you would like to pass on to our listeners?

clear in your mind that you go through the different points of the email in a structured way. And that starts with actually the recipient list. Who goes onto the tool list? Who goes onto the CC list? And to have that clear in your mind as have a good balance between where you put the people and don’t put too many people on it. So what…

Why do you think it’s important to really just… You say that people tend to write emails and regardless of if you’re on the tool list or CC list, there’s an action point for you. If you don’t read it, it doesn’t matter? What is… Yeah. I think that’s bad style if you just ignore that there’s a difference between tool and CC. Because there’s people like you, set filter by that. And then…

you don’t get the thing across that says actually an action item. So CC should be for your information and not you have all the to-do’s here. So that’s a clear thing. The other point is I strongly recommend to not use BCC because usually it’s abused. I think there’s really only very, very rare cases where it makes sense to use BCC.

When you, for example, write to a huge audience and you don’t want to have all the emails visible of your complete newsletter in there and you want to keep this distribution list itself more blinded, then I think it makes sense. And also if you expect that people don’t know the difference between reply and reply all.

then it might also be helpful to have BCC in use.

Yeah, but usually BCC is very often misused. Used in a way that it’s misused. It’s usually misused. And so if you need to use BCC, then usually there’s something awkward going on. I think the next point is to write brief and to the point.

Do you know the story about someone that wrote a letter and at the end vote, sorry, I didn’t have time to write a short letter. So I’ve wrote a long letter.

Because it puts more burden on the writer to kind of clearly make the point and structure the email correctly.

And really, I don’t know how you feel about emails, but I want to get emails that are short and concise. And if there’s a need for a lot of text, I would prefer to have that in a separate document, an attachment or something like this. Well, I like emails where it’s quite clear what the message of the email itself is. So that’s what I try to…

especially require from people that I’m working with is that they don’t give me the whole story. If they’re working on a project and they have months or even years of background to this one question, I don’t want to see this in the email, please, because I would like to have a question and the relevant information to that.

and if it’s long information, then it’s a phone call, please, or some, as I said, document. But in general, I prefer to have the email itself and not the attachment because attachment is then, you can store the attachment somewhere, but it might be easier for email communication. For example, if you reply, if you forward the email, the attachment is attached.

If you reply, it’s gone. So the information is missing if there’s a communication afterwards. So therefore, I do prefer to have it in the email itself and not using attachments for this. Yeah. Well, the other, of course, usually even better option is instead of attaching the document itself is to have a link to the document in the email.

And yes, but this again is not searchable. So if you use the information, for example, when you say we manage, you know, managing the emails and putting it in a folder using the search function of the of the email program, you can’t search in the linked documents. So there’s also disadvantages to this. And yeah, no, I do. Yeah, then I prefer attachment.

But also with the link, of course, what’s easier is kind of version control there. So, you don’t end up with lots of different versions of the same document. So, yeah, but I think being conscious about it, that is, I think, the most important thing and being clear why to do these things. In terms of actually the shortness, what is really important here is to have…

to clearly set the frame. And for me, I think this already starts with a clear subject line. That’s the frame where you are going to.

I don’t want to get the subject line that says, our paper. I think, well, I’m working on dozens of papers. Which paper is that referred to? Or even worse, you get a reply to an older email trail with a complete different subject in it. You see the subject and it’s completely disconnected to the email itself.

That’s true. I fully agree. I think you start writing the email with a subject line. But then, I mean, saying that there are short emails and so on, how do you greet people? How much of politeness do you put in the email? Have a nice weekend and take care and just skip it. So for me, email…

Maybe I’m, it’s that way a little bit old fashioned, but for me, this is also a letter and it’s, of course, it’s not kind of as formal as a paper letter that you get, but it’s also more formal than if you’re using a chat function. So I think there’s a distinction between these kinds of things. And I think it’s also about personal branding. What’s your personal branding?

There’s also cultural differences in terms of setting the tone. And I think there’s probably usually better to err on the side of being a little bit more formal and at least have something like, hi Benjamin, and at the beginning or something like ciao or bye, goodbye at the end. Because that just belongs to a…

to a nice letter. Also, it directly sets the tone in which direction it goes. Especially for emails that are to a lot of people, and there’s just, hi, Benjamin, at the top, then you directly see, okay, this is for Benjamin, and I’m just CC. I think there’s lots of different things in it. I think it’s also…

I don’t know if I get these emails where say people just directly go into frightening me something.

To be honest, I find that this respect. Yeah, I think what I like is if people really write the greetings and not put it as a signature, for example, so that people sometimes have their signature at the bottom of the email and then above the signature also in the color of the signatures was the Euros sincerely or greetings. Or so like one of these things where you see just, okay, they’re just writing the email and everything else is, I mean, it’s nice, but it’s impersonal.

It’s in a way. So anyway, you have to I think what is important is really to just keep in mind that there’s, you know, the, the, the, the reader of the email recognizes, you know, different colors and recognizes different forms and, and sees whether this is a standard answer. So I’ve seen emails that is going to do your team, you know, where you talk to somebody, you know, external, for example.

with people that they never met before. So it’s really important to be clear or to remember who you’re writing the email to and then formulate the greeting and the end of the email. Sometimes it’s the first impression that you give to someone. And I think it also sets the tone.

in the complete conversation. And I think taking care of the tone and being aware of the tone of your email is very important. Yes, especially don’t use it to shout at someone or to criticize someone. I mean, sometimes people are really writing back in red letters and capital letters and they…

So you can just, you know, reading the email, you can just imagine them being furious at the other end of the desk. And that’s not for emails. I mean, then if you want to shout at somebody, shout at somebody. Writing an email. This is… Yeah. So, well, I have done that. I have done that. I committed. I really done that. At the beginning of my career.

I wrote back in anger and that was not well received. But well documented. And of course, well documented and completely fired back on me. My supervisor could understand the situation, but of course, he couldn’t approve it. You know, this is just not acceptable. I’m saying that you should do. It’s just not acceptable.

And yeah, I got the feedback that I’m writing disturbing emails, which was really I took as a learning. Yeah, it’s much better if you sleep over it and don’t directly reply. That’s a good point to sleep over it or at least, you know, do something else, get a coffee in between and then reread your email before sending it out.

Because, I mean, sometimes it’s important to reply in anger because it’s needed at some point. But really, careful. And you read it before sending it. Yeah. Another thing that I sometimes do is I send the draft email to a colleague.

to my supervisor and let him check whether my tone is okay or not. Just because sometimes just so much kind of caught in your emotions that it’s really, really difficult to distinguish from my tone. And also, I think there’s a big cultural difference. I mean, we both are Germans, so I think Germans are quite direct in their way of communicating and this may or may not be well received at the other end of the continent or another continent.

So this is also, you know, be careful and just remember who you’re writing to. And so there are real differences in cultures and how people react or understand what you’re writing and even especially then if it might be that, you know, there are also like language barriers sometimes that, you know, if you’re not speaking in your mother tongue, it might be also tricky to communicate this.

precisely in the mood that you plan to communicate it and then you wonder why it’s coming back. It’s boomering. Yeah, well, I once wanted to write also early in my career, said I didn’t understand something. And instead of writing, I’m confused. I literally translated a German word and wrote.

I’m irritated.

Yeah, that’s lessons learned. A lot of backfire. So, but yeah, but this is kind of also maybe to take into account if you get an email in English from a non native speaker.

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to just double check whether that was really the intended communication or whether it was just a language problem. Yeah. What else? Do you use often the flags like high importance, low importance or priority? Is this something you would recommend to use? I don’t use that very much.

So these flags, I’m not even sure whether they are consistent across all the different email systems. So I don’t use that. I think what I can understand is if there’s clear words in the subject line, like capital letters urgent or capital letters action needed immediately or things like this.

you just shouldn’t send super urgent emails because you can’t expect that they are read really, really fast. But in terms of flags, I think words are much better to capture that. Some people overuse these flags anyway. Then if all your emails are flagged, then

none is really important. That’s true. I mean, I think we don’t have to mention that you shouldn’t use your email system, especially at work, to pass on any newsletter or spam or funny videos. This is not only that’s usually forbidden at the company.

This is just making not a very good impression of yourself and doesn’t help your colleagues. Yeah. Especially, you know, these kind of humor emails sometimes can be quite borderline and they can also, depending on the culture.

be even completely inappropriate and can be easily misunderstood. So I would always kind of avoid these things. That’s something you can do in the private account if you like. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s just not the right thing for business.

It’s similar with the kind of flagging, I think, is this reply to all, being really careful with that and not overuse it. Especially don’t use it to… Distributionally, worldwide staff members. Complete company. Yeah, it’s really funny what we received over the years as reply to.

to all. I didn’t connect it, I should have. Be careful. Actually, if you need to write these huge distribution lists, in some email systems, you can disable the reply to all. So that the receiver actually can’t use this option. I think that makes a lot of sense.

So, and these are kind of the techniques that you need to know if you very often need to send these big distribution email lists.

Yeah, one other topic regarding kind of the CC list. Do you see this in? Have you seen this before? That people copy up so that they send an email to you and then they copy your supervisor?

It’s kind of a, I don’t know, if they don’t trust you, if they criticize you or whatever, or even, you know, if they praise you, it’s they put in, you know, copy and the manager or supervisor once more. Yeah. So for praise, I think that makes a lot of sense because you want to, you know, know that, you know, your supervisor should know that you have done something well. But for critiquing.

I don’t think that’s a good approach. What did you say? Usually not, but not for the first email. For example, if there’s no reply and it’s an urgent action to come or meetings to come and you didn’t show up or anything. I think at some point there are…

ways or this could be a way of increasing the importance of the email and maybe having the manager involved, the supervisor involved in the situation and help out. But before you use that option, I would say there are other ways. As we talked earlier, like calling, communicating, asking back, sending a second email. So I think this is one of the last steps you should do.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely agree. How do you end your emails? Well, I usually say best regards, kind regards with my with my name and then putting in a signature at the end of the email. Yeah, I think the signature is really important. I very often use that to look into the contact information for lots of people.

And actually in lots of settings it’s even required. So for example, in Germany, if you send a company email out, it needs to have a certain email signature. So some standard text in there that is required by law. So I think it’s, and it’s also, I think from just a branding perspective, it’s really important to have these signatures in there.

I do have several types of signatures, shorter and longer ones. I agree it’s quite important. But sometimes I think you receive emails where the majority of the text is signatures from the replies.

So and then between the signatures, you have to find the one or two sentences of information that you’re looking for if you follow the chain. So there’s also something is, you know, especially if they have internal emails going back and forth with yes and no answers. And then instead of yes and no, you have a signature, which is half a page long. It might be a good reason for not using signatures. But usually, especially if this is going out of the company external to, you know, to a service provider or to.

company yours. This is really important to have a signature, appropriate signature. It’s your signature, it’s your presentation of yourself and your company. So don’t misuse it.

tricked also with signatures. You can put these signatures as long as you want. If you need to send certain emails very, very often, you can actually put complete templates of emails in there. Let’s say you need to send out weekly a certain email to a specific audience

tweak a little bit here and there, then you can put that completely into your special signature and then you just pull up the signature and tweak it and off you go. So nice way to standardize and improve the efficiency. But the signature itself, I think, well, sometimes I’m, you know…

I see emails, this is probably about email providers or email programs, is that some people if you reply, the answer that you give is on top of the email. But in other cases, the answer is also at the end of the email. And sometimes the signature is at the end of the email while the reply is on top of the email. So there are different ways of the email programs to working with this.

And it doesn’t make, you know, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to have the signature at the end of the emails. So you have like 20 signatures at the bottom of your email text. And then on top you have the answer that are going back and forth. So you don’t even know who was answering what. So it’s tricky. So be careful when you use signatures and the reply or reply all button because…

just check your email, the body of the email, to see how this looks like, to learn from it and to understand what the impact the signature or the position of the signature has on your email. Yeah, I think, but if there are these very, very long email trails, I think something was wrong within the writing of the email sometimes. So…

that goes back to writing a clear email and, for example, providing clear options. So do you want to go do it this way, this way, or this way? Please decide. Or do we meet here, here, and here? Please decide. So that you can keep the…

answering and re-answering and answering again, loop quite, quite short. Yes. And one, another important point is to ask only one question. Ah, yeah. Because this is, this is then sometimes really getting confusing if you have like three, four different topics that you start discussing in one email, it doesn’t, doesn’t work. And it’s, you know, I’m, I’m considering myself not to be, you know, very

let’s say dumb. But even I realized that I often forgot to answer the second and third question. Because I was answering to an email, sending it out because I finished my answer. But then I realized afterwards that there were two more questions in the email. So it’s really difficult for the reader to get the mind across it. I mean, sometimes they’re connected to questions, but sometimes they’re really different topics.

don’t do that. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense in many ways because first of all, you don’t reduce your emails because it’s just people tend to reply to one question then on the other. So you have different chains of emails going back and forth and one is discussing with the same subject line one topic and the other one is with the same subject and discussing another topic. So it’s really one topic, one question and the question should be formulated as simple as possible.

Preferable, yes, no, but also as you said before, giving options saying, should we do we have the option to do this, this, this, what is your preference? Or should we meet on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday? I can, I’m free. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Completely agree. I think the having one topic per email also makes sure that this topic is really addressed.

And as you said, it’s very easy to miss these things, but it’s also on the other hand is if you’re on the receiving end of such an email, automatically you kind of go to the easiest question first and get that answered. And then yes, no questions. And so if you want to have…

feedback on all the different questions, it’s much better to separate them in different emails. And sometimes also these different emails need different distribution or subject lines. And so that’s all different for sure different subject lines. Yeah. And at the end, I think it’s really important to have a clear call to action. What to do, not see things like any thoughts.

Thoughts on what? Please let me know your thoughts. Okay. This kind of, you know, you surely have something specific in mind that you want to have feedback on, not kind of general thoughts. Email is probably not the best way to brainstorming. So be as specific as possible in terms of what you actually want. I agree. And really…

If you are unsure, make a pause, reread your email, reread your email even loud so that you understand what is, you know, I mean, if you have a room for yourself, please, because your colleagues might be quite irritated otherwise. Yeah. But I think that is especially important for these high impact emails. So you probably don’t do that for every email.

high impact emails, it helps to read them out loud because then you really get the tone of the email much better.

Hey, that was nearly 40 minutes on writing emails. I can’t believe it, but I think we had a lot of different good guidance. It’s a really important topic. I mean, it’s a daily topic. Being more effective on using email, I think, helps a lot in our life overall. That’s why we called it the effective statistician.

Absolutely. All right. Thanks for listening and hope to have you on the call next week. See you anyway. Bye. We thank PSI.

to boost your career as a statistician in the health sector. If you enjoyed the show, please tell your colleagues about it.

Join The Effective Statistician LinkedIn group

I want to help the community of statisticians, data scientists, programmers and other quantitative scientists to be more influential, innovative, and effective. I believe that as a community we can help our research, our regulatory and payer systems, and ultimately physicians and patients take better decisions based on better evidence.

I work to achieve a future in which everyone can access the right evidence in the right format at the right time to make sound decisions.

When my kids are sick, I want to have good evidence to discuss with the physician about the different therapy choices.

When my mother is sick, I want her to understand the evidence and being able to understand it.

When I get sick, I want to find evidence that I can trust and that helps me to have meaningful discussions with my healthcare professionals.

I want to live in a world, where the media reports correctly about medical evidence and in which society distinguishes between fake evidence and real evidence.

Let’s work together to achieve this.