HOWTO compose a great email

Today on Wired's HOWTO wiki, advice on writing a perfect email. Practically speaking, this is about how to send a perfect email to a stranger (since your friends already love you, bad email habits and all). I get a lot of email from strangers — invitations to speak or write for a site or magazine, interview requests, questions about Boing Boing, Creative Commons, or writing, that kind of thing. I try to answer as much as I can (I get to about 90 percent of it), but it's often the case that the emails are structured in a way that makes them especially hard to answer. This, in turn, has really changed how I compose my own email when initiating a correspondence. This HOWTO includes a lot of great advice — things you can do to make sure your mail gets answered.

Getting a lot of responses asking, "What do you mean?" Context is your problem. When you're asking a question, anticipate any missing details that could cause an extended back-and-forth. Each time someone sends you a reply, you've gone to the back of that person's line. Do what you can to make your emails count the first time.

And for god's sake, have a subject line. One that makes sense. Some of the most important emails I've received didn't have a subject, and they almost fell through as a result. Don't waste that space with words like "Important" or "Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:". If the topic changes, change the subject line to match it. Remember that on recipients' screens, your subject competes with a large number of others for their attention.

Old-school email users have a tendency to trim everything out of the body of an email except their replies. Don't do this. For example, if you send me an invitation to speak at a conference and I ask what the topic is, you might reply with just the topic, snipping out all the details of the conference. If I've forgotten about your email by the time you reply, this means that I've got to go back through an enormous email archive to find your original message in order to figure out what you're talking about. Even if I remember, it means that I no longer have the details to hand. Don't trim email. Let it run long. It's the 21st century: an email with an extra 10k of old text at the bottom of it isn't going to swamp my mailer (the 20,000 daily spams are doing that very nicely, thank you).