How I Email: Danny Rubin, Business Communication Author and Speaker

Email is a non-negotiable part of everyday life. For some, it’s an unruly time suck, but enlightened email users have systems to ensure they’re not a slave to the inbox. We’re asking smart thinkers to give us a peek inside their inboxes, share tips, ideas, gripes, and everything in between.

Danny Rubin is the author of “Wait, How Do I Write This Email?” It includes more than 100 templates for networking and the job search and is used by instructors in high schools, colleges and military installations, including the Pentagon. We discussed how to write emails that elicit a response.

Interview by Jaclyn Schiff. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s your general approach to managing your inbox?

I only keep emails in my inbox that are active conversations. If they’ve been dealt with, I archive them. I treat my email like a to-do list. But I probably check too often, let’s put it that way.

You’re the author of,”Wait, How Do I Write This Email?” Why did you decide to write a book devoted to email?

I had been blogging on the topic of writing guides for about a year and a half. I had gained about a million views to my blog through organic search, so I felt like I had enough market research to say, “This should be a book.” And so that’s what I did.

Why is there such a hunger to improve email writing?

Writing is oftentimes people’s number one vulnerability in the workplace. It’s not something that we work on, and it’s not taught well enough. We sort of know what we know, and we just kinda get by.

But when we have to sit down and write a really important message, we freak out. And we’ll start and stop, delete, and start over. If only somebody would just tell you how to do it in a way that is modern but also professional, then that would solve a lot of problems and alleviate a lot of stress.

I think it’s the most undiagnosed issue in business today — the ability to communicate professionally.

What can a person do to express themselves better over email?

There are two things I always tell people: First, you must do an effective job validating other people, proving that you’ve researched other people first; do your homework on them and respect their work with detailed examples before you talk about yourself. If it’s an important conversation, an important relationship, take the time to make it special to them and they’re going to answer you.

When you talk about yourself, do so with detail: quantify success, link to examples, never be vague. I always say, if you want people to take an interest in you, then you first have to take interest in them. And that’s something people often forget or never think about because we live in a very egotistical age. But the people who stand out are the ones who run the opposite direction. They have a curiosity and a genuineness about them. Those qualities don’t come along all the time. So when you see it, you know it right away. That’s the model I teach — to lead with interpersonal skills and to lead with strong detail, focusing on writing specifics.

People can’t hold on to adjectives, they hold on to numbers and nouns.

You have a guide for writing “breakthrough” emails or emails that result in opportunities. What are some tips for when you’re using email to reach out to someone?

The biggest thing is you have to be clear upfront what you’re asking for. If you want a journalist to write about you, if you want someone to attend an event, put your ask at the top. Oftentimes, we put it at the bottom, and it’s buried, it seems like we’re insecure and afraid to ask. Put what you want at the top, let everything else fall below it.

Do you have any favorite tools or apps for email?

I actually just started using Grammarly. I think it’s a smart tool.

A big part of writing is editing. I encourage people when writing a big email — to print it out before they send it. Go somewhere and read it out loud because you’re going to catch mistakes that way that you wouldn’t have caught otherwise.

There are apps to help you and catch mistakes and that’s good, but also can’t rely on technology to catch all your errors. You’ve got to print it out, you’ve got to read it, and you have to ask other people to critique you. You can’t have any ego about it, you have to just suck it up and let people make you better.