Most of us don’t want to read through three paragraphs of text when we could get the message in one, but that doesn’t mean we’re not guilty of inflicting the same lack of email concision on others. Here are some helpers.
Before we get started, I should preempt this post with a concise summary of the helpful suggestions below, in case you don’t want to wade through all that pesky text:
- In your email, be brief and to the point.
- Cut it down to subject only if you can with EOM.
- For most email, try to keep it under five sentences.
Note: When we talk about email writing values this week, we’re talking primarily about work-related email. If you’re emailing a note to a friend, go nuts with whatever style of writing you prefer.
Get It in the Subject
Your subject line sets the tone for your entire email: Don’t throw it away. Instead, try making it into a clear statement of what’s going to be in the email. In fact, if you can say everything in the subject, you can stop there and go with the old End of Message (EOM) trick. Essentially, you write out your subject, add
(EOM) to the end of the line, and hit send.
If it sounds like an esoteric trick, it’s not as unusual as you may think. Gmail won’t even prompt you about sending a message without any text in the body because it understands what EOM is all about.
Treat Email Like SMS, and Whenever You Can, Keep It Under Five.Sentenc.es
When you’re trying to make your email more concise, it might help to try imposing a strict philosophy along the lines of five.sentenc.es:
E-mail takes too long to respond to, resulting in continuous inbox overflow for those who receive a lot of it.
Treat all email responses like SMS text messages, using a set number of letters per response. Since it’s too hard to count letters, we count sentences instead.
five.sentenc.es is a personal policy that all email responses regardless of recipient or subject will be five sentences or less. It’s that simple.
The site suggests adding some text to your email signature pointing the recipient toward five.sentenc.es in explanation of your brevity; you can also get more extreme with four.sentenc.es, three.sentenc.es, or two.sentenc.es.
When It’s Really Long, Consider Writing an Email Abstract
Photographer and blogger David Friedman at Ironic Sans wishes that his email client would alert him when he’s written a particularly long email, then prompt him to write a summary that will appear at the top of his emails—he calls it the email abstract field. We’re still waiting for Google to add it in as a Gmail Labs feature, but in the meantime, there’s nothing stopping you from taking Friedman’s advice in your own emails.
It’s silly to think you can keep every single email communique below five sentences, but when you can’t be brief, you can still offer a concise summary of what you’re aiming for in all that text that follows. It helps the reader know what to expect, and it helps you clarify your message.