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How to check that your email has a clear direction

Alice in Wonderland

Not having a clear direction can mean that you get nowhere fast.

'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'

'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to' said the Cat.

'I don't much care where' said Alice.

'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.

– From Alice in Wonderland


And that's how emails can seem sometime.

They can seem to go in all directions if it's not clear what it is you want your reader to do. This becomes apparent when no matter how long you spend writing your email, your reader doesn't seem to understand what it is you want them to do.

Emails can go back and forth or worse still, no action is taken.

It can take your focus away from your other tasks and priorities. But if some of your tasks are reliant on your reader taking action from reading your email, then that can mean more work for you, if they don't complete those tasks.

All of that effort that went into writing the initial email can feel wasted if you then have to spend time clarifying what you meant or chasing up people.

What can you do to ensure that your email is read and understood?

Effective email writing follows a simple process. Without a process, the content of emails can go in different directions and can be confusing for the reader, resulting in no action, which is frustrating for you, the writer.

An email with a clear direction addresses its three key components.

  1. The Why
  2. The Who
  3. The What

By addressing these three components, you're able to focus on being clear and in turn, your reader has a greater chance of understanding what you want them to do. So let's look at them in more detail.

Firstly, the Why.

The why is about you – Why are you writing the email?

I know I'm stating the obvious but think about it, how many emails have you read that started on one thing then went on to something else and then possibly onto a few other things.

People that do this often feel the need to cover as much as possible in one email rather than send multiple emails. Their reasoning is to minimise sending too many emails. The reality is that the confusion caused with multiple messages in one email often results in no action.

The time spent crafting the one (often long) email is wasted as the reader often feels overwhelmed with the different messages within that email.

To check if you're clear as to why you're writing the email, ask yourself just that question – Why are you writing the email?

If you can only answer the question by listing more than one reason then your email may be confusing for your reader. The key is to keep it simple – focus on one message.

Secondly, the Who.

The Who is your reader.

Is it your team members, senior management, clients or suppliers?

Knowing who you're writing to will influence your approach to the email.

Thirdly, the What.

What do you want your reader or readers to do as a result of reading your email?

Do you want them to sign off on your proposal? Do you want them to follow the new procedures?

What is it that you want them to do?

And remember to let your reader know what you want them to do by using clear and concise language.

Understanding the Why, Who and What of your email will help you to focus on being clear when writing and in turn, reduces the chances of confusing your reader.

This is a simple process that can mean the difference between an email being understood and actioned to one that isn't and no action takes place.

Falling down the rabbit hole

Knowing your Why, Who and What will help you to avoid falling down the email rabbit hole.

If you don't have time to stop and consider these three components of an email, then think about the repercussions that it could have on your own productivity.

  • Will you need to clarify your email so that your reader understands what you want them to do?
  • Will you need to follow up with your reader so that the tasks are completed?
  • Will it take you away from your other tasks?

By knowing your Why, Who and What, you will be better placed to focus on writing a clear and concise email.

And unlike Alice, you won't be going aimlessly in different directions falling down the rabbit hole.



The Email Efficiencies self-study course enables you to efficiently write clear and concise emails that help your reader to understand what you want them to do. Find out if this course is for you.



Maria Pantalone

Maria Pantalone works with individuals and teams to make communication their strength so that their message is heard. Her programs help her clients to excel in their role and be recognised as leaders in their field.
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