e-mailNote: I have updated this post and included a podcast episode and video. Please come over to the new post here.

How many times have you clicked “Send” on an e-mail and then realize you forgot the attachment? The whole reason for the messagel was the attachment. You did such a masterful job of explaining all about it. When you finished that explanation, you thought, “I’m done!” So you clicked “Send.” Only you weren’t done. In fact, now you send a second e-mail explaining you forgot to send the attachment.


How about this one: You write your subject line, but by the time you get through composing your message, its various twists and turns have caused it to stray from what the subject line originally said.

To solve both problems, let’s write the e-mail backwards.

Add Attachments

If you will have an attachment, start by attaching it. You have just eliminated the possibility of forgetting. If you are replying to or forwarding a message and need to add attachments, do so before composing any text.

Compose the Text

Go to the body of the message and say what you are going to say. Front-load it. That way the reader immediately understands the purpose of your message.

Compose the Subject Line

Look at the message you have written and sum it up in a subject line as descriptive as possible. Can the reader look at that subject line and know what it’s going to mean to him/her? Many times, you will find you can write the entire message with just the subject line!

Avoid subject lines such as “Important” or “Meeting.” If you want to show an e-mail is important, use the “!” priority symbol your e-mail program provides. “Need your approval on this proposal by Friday” gets the point across much better than “Important.” “Can you attend the XYZ meeting on the 13th at 9:00?” is much better than “Meeting.” If we can look at the subject line and know we can quickly take care of it, it’s just human nature to act on that message.

If you are replying to someone’s message or forwarding a message, is the present subject line still applicable? If not, change it to one which is (especially if the original was “Important” or “Meeting”).

Address the E-mail

You can send an e-mail even though you forgot an attachment. You can send one even if you forgot a subject. You can even hit the “Send” button by mistake before even composing a word of your text. But, you cannot send an e-mail without a properly-formatted e-mail address in the address line. Save this step for last.

Proof-read your message. Double-check that the attachments are there. As the final step, address the e-mail. Now, you are ready to send!

Write your e-mail backwards. See if it doesn’t help you escape some of those e-mail blunders.

Does anyone already do something along this line? What other suggestions might you want to add?