ABC of email

You can follow the ABCs to ensure you write effective emails. This model is based on and HBR article, the SBAR communication model used in hospitals and the "ABC's of email" I have taught to new employees in the past.

When writing a new email, follow the ABC's in order.

A (Attachments.)

First attach any files you want to send. This ensures you include any referenced files and  will avoid having to send a follow up message to everyone saying “this time with the file.”

(B) Body

Start with your “Subject.” This should be prepended with one of the following so the recipient knows what they are going to have to do with the message:

  • ACTION: The recipient needs to take action.
  • DECIDE: The recipient needs to decide and respond.
  • INFORM: This is for information only. No action or decision required.

Immediately after your salutation put a one line BRIEF: This is a short statement to explain the purpose of the email. It should answer the 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why.)  

Next explain the BACKGROUND:. This is a longer narrative providing the information needed for the action or the decision. It should explain the SBAR’s (Situation, Background, Assessment and Recommendation.)

Finally end your email with the ACTION needed or what they have to DECIDE.



Subject: DECIDE: Should we buy a coffee machine?


BRIEF: We lose 2 hours to a Dunkins run everyday.

BACKGROUND. We currently do not have a coffee machine in the breakroom. This is because the last one blew up when someone put extra caffeinated espresso beans in it. The lack of coffee machine means employees have to leave the building to buy coffee every day. The loss in work time costs us 15 hours of lost productivity a week at a cost of $375. I believe we should buy another coffee machine.

DECIDE: Can we buy a coffee machine from Costco for $150?


(C) Contacts

Once you have composed and proof-read the body of the message add the contacts. This will ensure you don’t send out your message before you are ready.


  • Attachment
  • Body





  • Contacts

Following the ABC's will ensure you get your point across efficiently, increase the chances of the recipient doing what you ask and make sure never send an email before you are ready. In addition to using this format remember that there is no tone in text and if there is any emotion in a message then it’s always better to have a call with the person.