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I first heard about this website that encourages short emails when I saw it in the signature line from a social media company’s CEO:
Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?
The website gives you an explanation of the project and some copy to add to your email signature if you are up to the challenge.
I thought this would be easy and added the five-sentence disclaimer to my emails.
My emails are pretty to the point already and that should be easy. It wasn’t. I started overthinking my emails. That seemed short and is actually six sentences. Ugh. #fail
Of course, it’s more of a guideline but a good one to keep in mind. Long emails. Especially ones with long run-on sentences in never-ending paragraphs are terrible. They are even worse when an important take-away was embedded in one of those.
“You didn’t see my request? I sent it last week in one of my 2,993-word emails.”
No I didn’t. Sending emails doesn’t mean they were received. And even less that they were understood and that tasks were added to a to-do list.
Long emails are good from time to time to document something in a project that was already discussed. They are not good to have a lengthy (and collaborative) exchange.
People read things incorrectly. There’s no body language to read intent. Add to that people who pick the wrong words and long emails are a mess.
“You are so nice in person. Why are your emails so prickly?”
So I will give the short email thing a try and see how that works. I think that means that if an email needs to be over five sentences that I should finish it in a Google Doc and email the link. Ha. Just kidding. #cheater
When an email must be over five sentences it likely is a sign that we should pick up the phone or go see the recipient in person.
So there you have it. It’s a decent idea, I think, and I’ll give it a try.
If an email absolutely must be longer, may I suggest some ideas to make it more readable:
Use bullet points
Bold key concept
Sub headlines to break up content
Highlight people’s names when there are to-dos.
Paragraph breaks are your friend
In other words, use digital marketing content best practices in email.
Of course, some of us need to consider the positive of short emails. I still see mobile signatures that say: “Excuse the brevity. Sent from mobile.”
No reason to apologize for either of those. I’m writing this on mobile – as usual.
Brevity is great when it gets the point across and shares what needs to be shared. We’ll see if it can be done routinely in five sentences or less.