21 October 2005

How to write better emails

From 43 Folders: Writing sensible email messages:

First: Understand why you're writing
Before you type anything into a new message, have explicit answers for two questions:
1. Why am I writing this?
2. What exactly do I want the result of this message to be?

Get what you need. There are really just three basic types of business email.
1. Providing information. “Larry Tate will be in the office Monday at 10.”
2. Requesting information. “Where did you put the 'Larry Tate' file?”
3. Requesting action. “Will you call Larry Tate's admin to confirm our meeting on Monday?”

Note from Dave: I would add a fourth:
4. Confirmation. This is an email to confirm that something promised has actually been delivered, or to confirm a verbal agreement.
More on this.

Write a topic sentence that clarifies a) what this is about, and b) what response or action you require of the recipient.

Since the Larry Tate meeting on Monday has been moved from the Whale Room, could you please make sure the Fishbowl has been reserved and that the caterer has been notified of the location change? Please IM me today by 5pm Pacific Time to verify.

Write a great Subject line. Compose a “Subject:” line that hits the high points or summarizes the thrust of the message. Avoid “Hi,” “One more thing...,” or “FYI,” in favor of typing a short summary of the most important points in the message:
Lunch resched to Friday @ 1pm
Reminder: Monday is "St. Bono's Day"--no classes
REQ: Resend Larry Tate zip file?
HELP: Can you defrag my C drive?
Thanks for the new liver--works great!

Consider using just the subject line to relate your message. As I've mentioned before, in some organizations, such emails are identified by adding (EOM)—for end of message—at the end of the Subject line.

Brevity is the soul of...getting a response

Note from Dave: I have edited this post according to its own rules :)

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Anonymous said...

Dave - this was outstanding.

With so many emails and so little time, any useful ideas that streamline getting through them is appreciated.

Less is more.

Thank you.

Keep up the good work.



guns n brenner said...

A propos less is more: I think you can stick to the three classifications.
"Confirmation" actually is providing information, isn't it?
Why do you want to add this fourth item?
gunnar, germany

Unknown said...

You could look at it that way, but as a manager I find confirmation a helpful category.

"Confirm" can be used to make a digital record of an offline agreement. For example,

You and I had a verbal conversation in the hallway where you asked me to do something and I agreed. Your email to me confirms the agreement and serves to create a digital record I can put on my task list.