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How to Create an Email Template

Email templates are easy. Stop writing the same email to your DNA matches over and over again, create a simple template.

Creating an email template is much easier than it sounds. You may think you have to figure out technical details specific to your email program, but you don't (although for some programs, you could). Let's look at how easy it is to create an email template as well as some common reasons a genealogist might want to create one.

Make an Email Template




There is one easy universal way to create an email template. Simply write up your template as a text document (.txt) and save it. When you want to use it, copy the .txt message, paste it into your email message, update any information (like the recipient's name), and send.

It really is that easy. Let's quickly look at the potential issues you might run into when doing this, though.

  • Formatting, too much or too little
  • Finding your template file when you need it
  • Including links, attachments, etc.
  • Sounding impersonal

Copy and Paste Formatting Issues


This post is aimed at those who don't consider themselves really tech savvy. I mention this because there are tons of ways to deal with formatting an email template. I'm not going into many details because I assume you either want to keep it simple or you really want a specific answer for your exact situation (what you are cutting from and pasting to).

If you feel you are pretty tech savvy, you should decide on a procedure for creating and using an email template. That means recognizing which program(s) you will send email from. Keep in mind, you might access an email account though it's native online portal, or from a program like Outlook, or an email app on your smartphone, or from all three---see why I can't easily give you a specific answer!

If you use more than one program/app or device, you might want to test out pasting in a template. Using multiple apps might mean a simple cut and paste template is your only choice since your template might not appear as an option in each app.

A test run can alert you to potential problems. For example, I've had issues pasting from Evernote because even though the formatting appears to be like a .txt file, it's really extremely formatted (like a webpage) and some programs show all this formatting in odd ways.

That's my advice if you want a specific solution, what about those who just want to keep it simple?

As I said, there are lots of options when cutting and pasting a template. The simplest, safest way to create a template that works every time is to create your template as a .txt file and not a Word file (.doc), Google Docs (.gdoc), Evernote, or other type of textual file. I've listed the file extensions to highlight the fact that just because these are programs for writing text, they are not .txt files/plain text files.

Each of these programs formats your text and that formatting can appear in different ways in different email programs (both yours and your recipients). Don't forget to consider how your message will look to your recipient! Minimizing formatting in email is a good idea.


Note: What formatting is copied over is often related to the program you are pasting into, your email program in this case. You may not have problems copying and pasting from non-plain text programs or you might have terrible problems.

If your message is filled with goobledygook when you paste, you need to use plain text. You are more likely to simply get formatted text (the font and size would be different than any text you just typed into your message).

If you want to keep it simple but have a bit more flexibility, you may be able to choose to paste as "plain text" and that will remove any formatting that could cause problems.

Along the same lines, here is an article from Life Hacker with some other simple solutions to your pasted formatting woes, https://lifehacker.com/stop-copy-paste-from-turning-your-emails-into-ransom-no-1827512372. If you find all the suggestions in this article too complicated, using a .txt file is the simplest option.

Finding Your Template


You created your template, now you need to be able to use it. There are two issues with this. The first is the simplest to address.

You need some type of organizational system for your computer/tablet/phone so you know where you saved something like your email template file. You MUST figure this out to ever be efficient using your device. There is no point creating a template if you can't find it.

I actually successfully use Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Docs to keep things accessible across all my devices but I have the advantage of using my devices a lot and all of them are mine (i.e. since I'm self-employed, when I'm working on a computer all day it's my computer, not a company's).

The less you use your devices, the simpler your system needs to be. Write it down if necessary (on paper is fine!).

The second issue with "finding" a template is whether you will need it on different devices. I love using NoteTab but it's a Windows program. It doesn't help me on my Chromebook, iPad, or smartphone. I hate writing emails on my phone so I focus on a solution that will work on my Chromebook (usually involving either Google Docs or at least Google Drive---which I can also access on my iPad or phone).

Before you spend time perfecting a template, make sure you can access it on the device where you will need it. Using a cloud storage solution like Google Drive or Dropbox is often the best solution with a .txt file, most devices can open a .txt file even if it's not in your preferred notepad app.

Remember, you can use an app like Evernote as long as you know how to deal with the formatting. If you really want to use Evernote, give it a test run. Either find solutions to the problem you're having (there is the option to "remove formatting" in an Evernote note). At worst, save your template to a .txt file instead of recreating it.

Google for a solution between your specific programs/apps if you really want to use those specific options.

Including Links and More


If you want the simplest option to set-up, that is a plain text file, you are going to have to add links into each email. This applies to any special formatting or attachments as well.

That is not your only option, it's just the simplest generic option. If you are using Outlook or Gmail, you can create an actual "template" that is stored in the program. If you need links or other special formatting, learn to use these options.

In Outlook a template is called a "template." In Gmail, it's called a "canned response." Other programs may also offer real templates but you can see they are called different things. If you can't find information by using your email program's help features, just do a general online search for "email template for" and the program you are using.

Remember to make sure you can access your template on any device you want to send from.

Also, don't go crazy with fancy template options. I received an email recently that had a fancy colored background (it was an image, not just a color). It did not display well on my phone. If you're using a template, you probably want to make a great first impression on the recipient. A difficult to read email will not do that.

I like to aim for a plain text template and only get "fancy" if I want to include links. This is a pretty safe formatting strategy.

FYI, if you're thinking about email templates for your business, this post isn't aimed at you. You really want to consider using a CRM with canned responses/templates. I love Dubsado but there are many options customized for different types of business.

(If you're a genealogist, you should decide based on how your brain works. Dubsado is aimed at creatives and works better for me than 17hats. This isn't based on features but more about how you use the program. Genealogists might think more like artists or scientists which usually means different software appeals to you. No one makes a CRM for genealogists.)

If you are sending bulk email, you should (legally) be using a service like MailChimp. There are laws (that obviously differ by country) that relate to sending bulk email. If you want to send something like a newsletter (or any bulk message), stop reading this post and go learn about those laws (you can start with learning about sending an email newsletter---make sure you are reading current information).

Writing a Great Template


I actually don't recommend you use a generic email template. I am a busy person, I bet you are, too (why else would you need to use a template---actually, there is a reason I'll talk about in a minute). With limited time to spend on any one thing (whether it's genealogy, business, or other hobbies), I prioritize. That's natural and you should do it.

What does that have to do with writing a template? I am less likely to respond to an email that is clearly a generic template. If you can't take the time to send me an email that clearly relates to our relationship, you aren't getting a very high priority spot on my to-do list (writing to me obviously wasn't high on your list).

Not using a generic template doesn't mean you have to start from scratch!

I highly recommend you look at generic templates. Then use the best of all of them to make a customized template for your situation. It should sound like you.

Most importantly, customize the individual message. In some cases, it might be "ok" to send a bulk message to multiple recipients but acknowledge this and still customize. You should have a reason you're sending one message to multiple people at one time. If it's because you don't have time to send more than one message, well, why should the recipient take time to reply to you individually?

To be a little clearer, a bad reason to email multiple people is "you are my DNA match." A good reason is "you are all in the same triangulation group" (or potentially in the same triangulation group). What is the difference?

In the first scenario, you can't customize the one email you are sending to multiple recipients at once. In the second, you would probably literally send the same message to each person. For you genealogists that don't use DNA, the first is like emailing multiple people saying, "hi, we are probably related, email me back." The second is like emailing and saying "I think we are all related to the same person" and giving details of how and why (and what you want from them).

Sorry, I don't have an example for any non-genealogists reading this. Think of messages you've gotten that have been far too generic and you'll understand.

Why Use Email Templates, When to Use Email Templates


If you haven't guessed, one reason to use email templates is when contacting DNA matches.

If you use DNA, I highly encourage you to create an email template. Response rates for messages to DNA matches are pretty low so you want to write the best email you can and you are more likely to do that using a template (i.e. thinking carefully through what to include and not rushing to send a message).

You should still customize every message but this can be really quick because initial emails to DNA matches SHOULD follow a formula (they should all include certain information). Your goal should be providing the key information while still sounding like a person, not a computer generated message.

Email templates can be used in genealogy for non-DNA purposes as well. The reasoning is the same but the messages will vary more from person to person so it's hard to find a generic example.

If you need to write the same or very similar message to someone, create a template. If you are simply creating a text file you copy and paste, you can do this on the fly. I often realize after two messages that I should be using a template but it is a template I will likely NOT use again after today.

I just copy one of the previous messages I sent and edit it as appropriate for each recipient. This really helps ensure I'm consistent providing the same information but allows me to tell each person how I found them and provide any unique information.

With DNA, it's important to include the name of the match's test as the email recipient might manage multiple tests. They need to know which one to look at. Because of this, I actually don't even "bulk" message people in a triangulation group. I customize my template for the group (this is my one-time use text file created from my more generic template) and then customize the one or two details that needs to be different for each individual match (this is in the individual emails).

Yes, it takes more time to send individual emails. It was a waste of your time to send a bulk message if you have to send it again and again because people don't respond. There is a good chance an individual email will get a response when a bulk message wouldn't. Save time by using a great template that is fast to customize (you can have multiple templates!).

With traditional research, it might be good to explain how you found the person's email address. It might sound creepy to just start talking about their family without saying you saw a message on a message board or saw their tree somewhere. The reaction varies by the recipient so explaining just increases your chance of success.

Finally, it's best to customize your message with what you want from the person. I recently got a message from a DNA match that was just information from a third-party DNA site. They copied and pasted the information. There was no text about why they were contacting me.

It was like saying "we're related" without even saying "email me back" more or less why he was interested in that test.

I emailed back asking and the response was equally vague. I won't be emailing that match again unless he provides a clear request. I don't have time to try and read his mind to figure out his interest in that test I manage.

Don't be too vague although in an initial message you certainly wouldn't want to make a "list of demands." It's not hard to reach a happy medium. Encourage dialog but make responding easy for your recipient.

A template can help you save time so also respect the time of the person you are emailing. Provide enough information but don't ramble and be clear about what you want or why you are emailing.

A template also helps you remember all these points.

Email Templates for Genetic Genealogy


If you are looking for more help about emailing DNA matches, I cover this topic in more depth in my online course, Overcoming AncestryDNA Overwhelm. However, that course is still being completed (maintaining the privacy of DNA matches during the live action demonstrations is taking more time than I anticipated). So...

If you took an AncestryDNA test and need a way to determine which matches to email for a specific project, you can start with the "Lite" version of the course. One of the features of the lite version is it includes $35 off the full version once it's available (So at most you'll have spent $5 on the lite version. You get $35 off the full version even if it's on-sale which is my incentive to you so you don't feel you need to wait to only purchase the full version).

The lite version doesn't include as in-depth information about emailing DNA matches which is why I'm explaining so much about both courses. However, it can get you started with the technique to group your AncestryDNA matches which is key in overcoming the overwhelm of having so many matches and not knowing which are related to the project(s) you want to work on.

[Yes, these courses are specifically for people who tested at AncestryDNA. And yes, I am considering creating a course aimed at those who tested elsewhere. So if you're interested in the course but didn't test at AncestryDNA, don't sign-up. Instead, email me and let me know what you're interested in. I will fast track creating the non-AncestryDNA version IF there is enough interest.]

You can see all my online courses from The Occasional Genealogist Academy, here.
If a multi-part course is more than you're looking for, I really enjoyed this video lecture from Family Tree Magazine. There are some great tips on contacting matches.




Email templates are not some complicated tech skill that will drive you crazy. Using a template stored in your email program might be more than you want to deal with but can offer added features, if it works for you. If you just want to save the time of writing the same message over and over again, using a text file and copying and pasting works great.

Remember, a template saves you time but it also allows you to provide consistent information which usually means a better message your recipient is more likely to respond to. Saving time is great but your goal is getting a response. A template is a way to save time but always remember the goal is a response.


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