Wednesday, September 28, 2005

How to Write Sensible Emails

Common sense ain't all that common:

"First: Understand why you're writing

Before you type anything into a new message, have explicit answers for two questions:

Why am I writing this?

What exactly do I want the result of this message to be?

If you can't succinctly state these answers, you might want to hold off on sending your message until you can. People get dozens, hundreds, even thousands of emails each day, so it's only natural for them to gravitate toward the messages that are well thought-out and that clearly respect their time and attention. Careless emails do not invite careful responses.

Think through your email from the recipient's point of view, and make sure you've done everything you can to try and help yourself before contacting someone else. If it's a valuable message, treat it that way, and put in the time to making your words count.

Get what you need

Although the possible topics and content of messages are theoretically endless, I'd propose that there are really just three basic types of business email.

Providing information - “Larry Tate will be in the office Monday at 10.”
Requesting information - “Where did you put the 'Larry Tate' file?”
Requesting action - “Will you call Larry Tate's admin to confirm our meeting on Monday?”

Other sensible suggestions:

• Write a great Subject line

• Brevity is the soul of...getting a response

• What's the action here?

• Make it easy to quote

• Minimize noise

Writing sensible email messages via Kottke

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