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Email Communication tips for multi-site studies

Email Communications

The following best practices were adapted from Cancer Research Network email communication guidelines.


Email is the most common communication modality in multi-center projects. Email facilitates thorough, non-intrusive communication to multiple parties across multiple time zones, permits ‘documentation’ of decisions and actions, and allows users to send and receive documents and other attachments. A potential downside of email however, is message volume that becomes overwhelming and frustrating.

Use of Message Body

  • Organize the message so that the most important information is at the top
  • Let the reader know if other information contained in the message is optional or background reading
  • Be concise. Consider bolding key content. …”send comments by DATE
  • Conference call date, time (by time zones) and phone numbers should always be contained in the message body, not only in an attached agenda.

Use of Web Links in Email Messages

  • It is now commonplace (and easy!) to use hyperlinks to a web site (e.g., URLs) in email messages.
  • Some email systems do not support the use of direct hyperlinks in email (that is, the URL may appear in the message, but the user cannot click on it to go directly to the website). If this is the case, the recipient may copy and paste the URL into their web browser.
  • Excessively long URLs may be conveniently shortened using free tools such as com,

 Use of Attachments

  • Size of attachments: Very large attachments may lead to your message being rejected by some email systems. Attention should be paid to how many attachments are being sent, and their total size in MBs.  To reduce file sizes, compress PDFs, or zip files together.
  • Volume of attachments: The number of attachments often peaks during study development and data analysis phases of the study. If individuals across multiple sites are editing documents concurrently, an agreed upon process to prevent version control issues should be worked out in advance.
  • Revised Meeting Materials: Sending multiple iterations of meeting materials can result in lost, deleted or missed versions. If a new version of an agenda (or similar document must is resent, use the subject line to alert recipients of a new iteration, and the message body to inform recipients of whether the previous iteration can be discarded.
  • Bundling: In general, if a sender is going to furnish multiple attachments to recipient, it is preferable to wait until all attachments are ready and send them with one email message.  (Note message size considerations described above).  If multiple attachments accompany an email, it is recommended that the sender list the filenames of the attachments in the body of the message so that the recipient can confirm receipt of all relevant documents.
  • Meeting Packets: Including all materials in a single PDF portfolio (meeting packet) may be preferred. Ask your attendees their preferences. When doing this, including a reference on the agenda to specific meeting packet is helpful.

Use of a Document Repository

  • If your project does not have a private website, the HMORN wiki can be used to house, share and archive documents.
  • The wiki collection name, wiki link, and document name can be inserted into the body of the message.

Use of Filenames

  • Everyone has an individualized system of naming and recognizing documents, spreadsheets, etc. When sending and sharing files, however, an individual’s file-naming system may be cryptic to others.  It is recommended that filenames be as recognizable and specific as possible.  Try to include: the project name/acronym; type of document; a version date; and revision number or other designation of a document’s draft/final status.  For example:

 ACRONYN_MD Survey_draft3_04172012.doc

  • If it is necessary to use a filename that may not be obvious to the recipients, explain the contents of the attached file in the body of the message.

Special Considerations

  • Action Items can be sent in the body of an email message following a meeting, with full minutes attachment or as a web link.
  • Formatting almost always gets garbled when sending messages to different email systems. For long messages with that may contain outlines, complex formatting or lengthy instructions (for example on grant development, budget guidelines), it is far preferable to send such information as an attachment.
  • Consideration should be given to the use of “reply to sender” vs. “reply all” functions. If the response is only relevant to the sender, it can cut down on the volume of superfluous emails.