Going the rounds in the blogosphere is the concept that to accomplish its purpose an email should only be five sentences long. Here’s the quote: “If your message is too short, you’ll sound abrupt. If it’s too long, no one will read it. Long emails are either unread, or if they are read, they are unanswered.”
In defense of the need to keep it brief: “The average worker spends 28 percent of their day reading and answering email, according to a 2012 study by New York City-based management-consulting firm McKinsey and Company. That’s a small novel of 41,638 words in one year!
This present article violates the rule. As did the article proposing the rule! Sometimes it is just not possible to express an idea in an arbitrary 5 sentences. Of course, we all recognize that an article is not meant to have the conciseness of an email.
But there are reasons for simplifying and clarifying. As one reader said, “Effective email is not necessarily concise but it is clear. Clarity is king!” In fact, the advice of most responders was to work at clarity first and simplicity second. Generally, when you are clear you are also concise. Clarity predicts brevity.
To avoid a long article, I’ll simply give a list of factors to consider. Enlightened you’ll be!
- Be clear about the action you desire and the motivation to take that action.
- Start by indicating what type of email it is – for example, state “Your action is needed” or “FYI only” or “Looking for feedback by X date” etc.
- Answer these five questions: Who are you? What do you want? Why are you asking me? Why should I do what you’re asking? What is the next step?
- If something needs to be in long form, it should be an external document. You can then send a short email referencing that document.
- Clogged inboxes are not a result of long emails but of too many emails or too many other tasks consuming one’s time and attention.
- “If I had more time I would have written you a shorter letter” – Mark Twain.
- There is a need to break up the email into paragraphs so that it does not read like one long sentence.
- Try using MS OneNote instead of email. It is an electronic notebook that can be shared on the web and all those edits can be done in real time. It will save you so much time instead of waiting for those emails.
- Effective communications is not length dependent, nor does it need have some arbitrary length to it to be accepted as “just right”. Remember what the commander at Bastogne said to the German General about surrender in WW II? “NUTS!” [Of course, the German General didn’t understand…]
- My Theory of Email Effectiveness: Pick up the phone and make that call!
There you have it. All the necessary considerations for writing clear and concise email… that will get read and answered.