06/06/2014 04:59 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:04 EDT

6 Ways To Read Email More Effectively

Do we all need training to read email effectively? Does the way we read email hold us back?

young african american businessman reading email on smart phone

Do we all need training to read email effectively? Does the way we read email hold us back?

Internet, social networks, smartphones, and laptops have increased our access to everything, and this seemingly unlimited access is increasing our productivity and flexibility. There is no doubt.

Our fingers and eyes have become our primary mode of communication -- not our voices, our vocal inflection and ears. We share important information by reading -- in this case, reading email and other online content. Unfortunately, reading email means we've lost access to important senses like facial expressions and hand gestures.

I've written extensively about email writing -- especially about email writing training and getting to the point. Now I'm hoping we can share in a discussion about reading email and how to be better email readers.

Email Reading Training Will Help Us Read Faster...Right?

Is reading faster the answer? There are new apps like Mailbird that help us learn to read email more quickly. But if people are depending on us and our answers, then it's critical we understand the content and action items.

The truth is very few of us are managing email effectively. We waste each other's time when messages are not read well. Let me ask you how often your co-workers:

  • Only answer one of the three questions you've asked?
  • Answer a different question than the one you've asked?
  • Have not responded to your email at all?

All of these three points and others suggest your message wasn't read with patience and thoughtful attention.

Email Reading Is As Important As Listening

Effective email reading is as important as effective listening, otherwise all we have is two people sending email but not caring or paying attention to what they receive. And other professionals agree. As I mention in my blog post Writing Effective Emails, when I ask about email reading, people also tell me their theories including:

  • "The people reading my email don't listen [read] -- they jump to conclusions about what I'm asking"
  • "They don't read anything past 140 characters" [a generalization... but we know what they mean]
  • "They find my first question and answer it -- then move on to their next email"
  • "Young people don't care; they're lazy and it's all about them"

Email Reading Training: 6 Ways To Read Email

Here are some rules that will help us become better email readers and manage email effectively.

1. Read The First And Last Two Sentences

While all email writers should get to the point immediately -- many have not learned to do that yet. But even if they get to the point quickly, be sure to read the end -- there is often a critical piece of information or call to action down there.

2. Look For KEY WORDS

Key words don't just exist in web content. Effective email reading means key words will help us identify what's important. We should be able to find at least one key word in the subject line. Key words like Urgent or Critical should be paid attention to.

3. Be Curious - Don't Jump To Conclusions

All too often we decide within the first sentence or two:

  • What the writer wants
  • What the solution is

That's far too soon.

Jumping to conclusions without even finishing reading the email is frustrating and puts everybody's timelines and budgets at risk. So, we need to be curious and read our email messages as if they really matters to us... because they do.

Try to understand their reason for sending the email. One interesting technique is to see how the parts of the email fit together: what does the subject have to do with the first sentence vs. the close?

4. What's The Purpose

Connected to being curious -- What's the Purpose?

Why are we reading? And why are they writing? Both the reader and the writer have to have a purpose and that email should be a common thread; as the reader, look for the common thread?

5. Remember, Email Reading Has A Natural Lack Of Tone

Often we feel people are bossy or rude in an email -- that's because tone is very difficult to incorporate into an email. As the email reader, we need to give our email writers the benefit of the doubt if their email has upset us; chances are they were not trying to be bossy or rude.

6. Skim, But Re-read

Skimming is great, but use it to prioritize our messages. Skimming helps us identify key issues -- the big picture. By skimming we can get a much clearer understanding of our writers needs / priorities, but take email reading to the next level. Re-read before you form an opinion or jump to a conclusion. Especially for large / complicated email, we need to look for ALL of the details before we answer.


When we think about how to read email effectively and how to manage email effectively, it's important we give ourselves the time to figure things out. Reading email effectively means being patiently and looking out for what our writers want to tell us -- not guessing what it may be as quickly as we can.

Happy communicating, harmony and email reading.

Click here if you have a question about email reading or email writing.