Businesses and professionals depend on email to communicate with customers and colleagues alike. Often the correspondence involves some back-and-forth. When this happens, email clients usually group the conversation into one string called an email thread or email chain.
Email threading is the best way to simplify correspondence and maintain consistency across many emails. They allow participants to trace the history of emails quickly, maintain transparency by keeping everyone informed, and, most importantly, minimize inbox clutter.
Email threads can help you keep business communications organized, but they have downsides. First, the conversation can drag on too long. Participants will have difficulty scrambling through the thread to find specific emails when this happens. Second, participants might get emails that aren't important to them, flooding their inboxes. This can be annoying for many people.
To get the best out of your email thread, it’s essential that you and all of the participants work together to make threads more meaningful. In this article, we’ll explore more about email threads and five best practices you can use to make conversations more efficient.
What is an email thread?
An email thread is one email conversation that contains a series of messages and replies. Email correspondences are grouped together in a threaded email instead of showing all emails individually. The sequence of emails is automatically arranged in chronological order to ensure the most recent reply is at the top.
In an email thread, all replies are visible to all recipients. However, you can exclude someone from one point using the function "reply" instead of "reply all." Email threads allow you to monitor the whole conversation that’s taking place between you and other people in the group. This makes it easier to refer to previous discussions when working on a project or dealing with clients.
When using email threads, it's important to note that not all email clients support them. That means if you or someone else's email servers don't support threading, you’ll receive each reply to the thread as a new email in your inbox. However, the most widely used clients, such as Gmail, Zoho Mail, and Outlook, support email threading. When starting your own company, such as an LLC or a startup, pick a client that supports email threading.
With that in mind, let's explore some ways you can make your email threads worthwhile.
5 best email thread practices
Email threads can help you simplify communications and marketing. It ensures that participants don't have to fill up inboxes mentioning every recipient by allowing everyone to reply to the original message. This can make tracking and accountability easier.
But with too many people in the conversation and too many messages being exchanged, the communication environment can easily get noisy. This can lead to inbox cluttering and lower productivity. To prevent this, it’s important that you set rules and implement strategies that will foster healthy email conversations.
You can start with these five practices.
Strive to keep your thread short
Email threads can easily get out of hand unless you learn how to control them. You’ll be stuck in a never-ending back-and-forth that’s usually meaningless. Two things typically make email threads too long: some people being vague and others making the thread the only communication channel.
To keep your threads short, consider encouraging everyone to provide as much information as possible in their emails. This will help address concerns and prevent other participants from asking too many questions that could stretch the string. Your email should help your intended recipient make an instant decision.
For instance, if you’re writing to get clarification, aim for a direct yes or no answer. Give your receipt all of the information they could need. This will ensure that they don't have to write back looking for clarification.
If you’re the person seeking clarification, ensure you address all o your concerns in one email instead of sending three or four different emails. This will ensure that the other party gets back to you with just one email that answers all of your questions. Yes, the email might be long, but at least you won't have to clutter the thread or your inboxes.
Finally, not everything needs to be an email. You might want everything on the record, but not everything needs to be on the record. Discuss with other participants to see what information they want on the record. Some people are okay with skipping pleasantries, acknowledgements, and those never-ending "Thank you for the update" emails.
Keep emails in the thread relevant (don’t go off-topic)
Never-ending email threads are a turn-off and can be just as tiresome as spam emails. One of their leading causes is deviating from the original subject. This leads to the thread getting cluttered with too many irrelevant emails, making it hard to find helpful information. The end result is that participants ask the same questions whenever they want clarification or they raise previously settled discussions.
There’s only one way to avoid this: establishing ground rules from the start. Once you create your thread, let participants know they're required only to discuss information relevant to the subject of your mail. If they have other business that doesn't relate to the topic, they should create a new thread or follow up on those issues using different communication channels.
You should also apply the same strategy when dealing with clients. You’ll probably have an email thread where you and a customer discuss payment, shipping, or warranty. Once that conversation ends, and you need to make a follow-up looking for feedback, it's best to start a new thread. In your new email, the intro should contain a recap of your previous discussions to get your recipient up to speed.
You can keep your email thread relevant, efficient, and useful by ensuring that no one goes off-topic.
Email threads are an essential business communication channel. If you’re a professional participating in any thread and want your email to be read and regarded with credibility, you must make them business-formal. The first step is to keep your email conversation relevant. But it doesn't stop there.
To maintain formality in your thread, keep your tone professional from start to finish. That means using the correct greetings, sign-off salutations, and email signatures. But most importantly, your content should be formal. Refrain from sending emotionally charged emails that might get the thread cluttered.
For instance, if you send an angry email, the recipient might feel disrespected and focus on retaliating instead of addressing the problem. If you’re too excited, the thread can go into a celebratory string with many congratulatory messages. In both cases, meaningful information ends up getting buried in the thread.
Another way to keep things professional in your thread is by using the :CC and :BCC fields well. Only forward your messages to people who need to see them.
Finally, keep your emails brief by going directly to the point. That doesn't mean you should overuse abbreviations or acronyms. Rather, use plain English and write in a manner all participants will understand. Your inside joke with John from finance? Avoid them.
Use proper email etiquette
Email threads, like any other form of communication, have a set of guidelines that every participant needs to follow to have a healthy conversation. Respecting these rules can help prevent the thread from going sideways.
Some of the email etiquette you should practice in the thread include:
Reply to requests: If you have more than one recipient in your thread and someone asks for an acknowledgement or feedback, it’s best to give it to them ASAP. This will prevent them from having to write a new email asking for your answer. Even if you don’t have an answer, let them know when to expect an update.
Alert recipients of new additions: This is a common courtesy to keep in mind when participating in any thread. You might have to add someone new to the conversation once in a while. When this happens, give the recipients a heads-up. You should mention this at the top of your email.
Give clear directions: If you expect your recipients to take action after reading your email, ensure that you clearly communicate that. This is especially vital for business. You need to use bold call-to-action messages to convert or guide a customer. Clear directions cut down on conversations that can drag down a thread.
Structure your emails properly
When writing an email, personal or professional, you need to make it easy for the recipients to read and skim through it. You want to make your email conscious and engaging. You can only achieve this by properly structuring your emails.
A proper email thread should have an attention-grabbing subject line, greetings, body, sign-off salutations, and a signature. You should separate these five parts into paragraphs to make your email content digestible—even if your email is one sentence long.
You should consider keeping your email paragraphs short and starting with the most useful information. If you’re writing a detailed email, consider using bullet points and numbered lists. This helps the reader skim through the email easily and understand your view better.
Finally, before sending any email, read it to ensure it’s comprehensible and free of errors.
Make your email thread useful
Email threads are a powerful way of organizing and having smooth conversations. But it's easy to deviate from the original goal, especially when you turn a thread into a chat with one-word replies. But by setting rules, being relevant, and observing common courtesy, you can make your email threads useful.
Getting the best out of your email thread requires all participants to work together. You’ll have to be more accommodating until you’re all on the same page.
Finally, consider using all of the features that email clients and email marketing tools offer. This will help you group conversations and declutter your inbox by filtering out the noise. For instance, Zoho Mail provides an option to like and comment on an email to avoid having to send emails back and forth. If you would like to try this conversational email feature or just check out the all-new interface, sign up for Zoho Mail and enjoy a 15-day free trial.
Gary Stevens is the CTO of Hosting Canada, a website that provides expert reviews on hosting services and helps readers build online businesses and blogs.