6 Tips for Writing Shorter Emails
Whether offering a pitch, making an introduction, or simply messaging a coworker, the tips below will help you be a more effective communicator.
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#1 Make sure that email is even the right medium
If an email chain is getting long and frustrating, pick up the phone. The phone is also the best option if it’s urgent
For longer emails with multiple layers of response requested, meeting work best to work through issues in real-time.
If you know that a colleague is online and you need a quick response about a non-urgent matter, Slack or chat is likely the best option
Only when you’re sure these other options aren’t the right avenue for communication, should you proceed to send your email.
#2 Take the time
The reason emails end up being long is often that we don’t put much real thought into them, and end up rambling on and on.
Perhaps paradoxically, a clear, short email may take more time to write than a long one.
But taking 10-15 minutes on the front end to ensure that your message is tight and the request is clear (more on how to do this below) will save buckets of time later on, and is more likely to get a quick and useful response.
If you have trouble getting used to this process, spontaneously type out your email as you normally would, then take time to pare it way down to a core message with as little background/context as is necessary to get the point across.
#3 Craft a potent, informational subject line
A specific subject line that addresses the interests/needs of the recipient will make your message more likely to be clicked on.
Formulating one also ensures that you yourself have gotten very clear about exactly why you’re sending the email.
Something like “Quick question re: ____” is perfect.
If it’s more of a to-do list item/reminder, you can even leave the body of the email blank.
#4 Stick to 5-7 sentences
The body of an email can be broken down into these component parts, to which you should lend just 1-2 sentences each:
Introduction. Quickly introduce yourself (if needed) and/or the overall theme/subject of your email
Reason for writing. Are you asking a specific question about a product? Are you making a pitch with a yes or no answer? Are you attaching documents for review/comment?
Context. This is where you can include any relevant background or context
Close. A quick wrap-up is all you need here: “Thank you for the time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
If the email is longer than 5-7 sentences, be sure to note that in the introductory sentences.
“This email is long, but all of it is necessary. To make responding easier, I’ve included a numbered action item list at the bottom.”
Try to break up the body into succinct bullet points, which will help the reader more easily move through your message.
#5 Make the ask and/or response needed very clear
Ask questions that elicit a very specific answer — ideally a simple yes/no:
“Would you be open to partnering up by sponsoring this campaign?”
“Does this time work for a meeting?”
“Do you think the wording of this RFP accurately and confidently conveys our ability to get the project done?”
#6 Stick to one question/request per email
Send one request/question per email, even if it means sending a few in a row to the same person
Send multiple questions, but in numbered form, and consider putting something in bold like, “Please provide feedback for all three questions.”
Pick up the phone instead, ask those few questions, and get immediate responses