Are you the frequent recipient of emails that are way too long? Even worse, are you the guilty party sending out these essay-like emails? Long emails are disrespectful to the time of others, often take too long to get to the point, and usually do not get responded to in a timely manner.
Leo Babauta over at Zenhabits shares some simple rules for writing short, effective emails.
- Keep it to 5 sentences. No more. I stole this from five.sentenc.es of course, but I’ve used it for years and it works. I usually try to do fewer than 5.
- Figure out your main point. If you think you need more than 5 sentences, you haven’t figured out the key thing you want to say. Take a second to figure it out, and stick to just that.
- Ask one thing. Don’t ask 10 questions, just ask one. Or two at the most. You’re much more likely to get an answer quickly.
- Edit. If you stretched it to 8 sentences, cut out 3.
- Link. If you need to refer to info, include a link to it on the web.
- Post it. If the info you need to share isn’t on the web, put it there. Create a long answer or long background document (then edit it to the essential info) and post it online. Use your blog, or one of the many free tools for posting info. Create an FAQ if it’s useful. Link to it in your email.
While we are on the subject of email, The Quick Base Blog’s Alexandra Levit also gives some great advice about email communication:
Realize that e-mail is not private: Not only can most people in the IT department access it, but you never know who your messages might be forwarded to – accidentally or intentionally. Avoid discussing sensitive information or writing anything negative unless it’s specifically requested by your boss and/or supported by fact. Be careful. Be very, very careful.
Maintain a consistent professional persona: You can achieve this by crafting friendly, polite, and grammatically correct messages. Because you can’t rely on voice or nonverbal cues, always reread your e-mails to make sure the message you are sending is idiot-proof.
Use e-mail to reinforce in-person conversations: Impart helpful information or respond appropriately to an important issue via e-mail to reinforce face-to-face discussions you have with colleagues.
Don’t use e-mail as a forum to express displeasure or criticize: Do these things in person rather than taking the easy way out. If you must highlight a problem in e-mail, be positive and solution-oriented.
Use e-mail sparingly: CC your manager or senior executives only on messages that clearly demonstrate that you are doing your job. Avoid sending thousands of e-mails unless you want people to stop reading them.
Use flags and read receipts: When sending an important message to someone who you know is unreliable, increase your chances of a response by flagging the message or attaching a read receipt.
Be courteous: As a general rule it’s considered rude to e-mail a question to anyone sitting within 10 feet of you. Make an effort to speak to these people face to face.
Know what you are sending before you send it: Before hitting reply, carefully read an e-mail in its entirety. If it’s preceded by a series of messages, make sure to read and understand the whole string first.
Keep personal e-mails personal: If you want to send personal e-mails at work, set up a separate account. Don’t send cute forwards or fundraising pleas to your work friends unless they also qualify as friends outside the office.