1. Subjects with keywords. The subject clearly states the purpose of the email, and specifically, what you want them to do with your note.
Keywords: ACTION, SIGN, INFO, DECISION, REQUEST, COORD
2. Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). Lead your emails with a short, staccato statement that declares the purpose of the email and action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. An effective BLUF distills the most important information for the reader.
3. Be economical. Short emails are more effective than long ones, so try to fit all content in one pane, so the recipient doesn’t have to scroll. use active voice, so it’s clear who is doing the action. If an email requires more explanation, you should list background information after the BLUF as bullet points so that recipients can quickly grasp your message. Link to attachments rather than attaching files. This will likely provide the most recent version of a file. Also, the site will verify that the recipient has the right security credentials to see the file, and you don’t inadvertently send a file to someone who isn’t permitted to view it.
Using the active voice is neither necessary nor sufficient for clarity as to "who is doing the action". Just make sure it is in fact clear, and write as understandably as you're able. It's true that sometimes people use the passive voice inappropriately, but that's no reason to mangle your writing to avoid it.
> Instead of “The factory was bombed by an F18,” military professionals would say, “An F18 bombed the factory.”
That also rings true with (5) of George Orwells advice on good english writing 
(1) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(2) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(4) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(6) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
 George Orwell - Politics and the English Language
In fact as agency goes, it was not bombed "by an F18", it was bombed by a person using an F18, probably on orders (or by mistake when attempting to follow different orders) given by other people.
I've certainly enjoyed Orwell's writing, but his recommendations mostly aren't very well thought out (and he doesn't follow them very closely himself, or probably his writing would be worse). See also: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=992
Oh no, have we introduced "the fold" into emails too, after a decade of forlornly trying to persuade people it doesn't exist on the web?
Unless you mean trying to pack as much in as possible without exceeding an arbitrary measurement of where the fold is, as opposed to just being very brief and to the point? If so, that does seem to defeat the point and would be inconsistent.
actually other countries also have similar regulations that are supposed to favor a compact style of official correspondence
Verwaltungssprache in German https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verwaltungssprache
Официально-деловой стиль in Russian https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9E%D1%84%D0%B8%D1%86%D0%B8...
1. Keep the message as short as necessary but no shorter.
2. Put the most important information at the top of the message.
3. If it email is for an ask, call out from who you need the response and put it at the top of the message.
4. If you need to send a long email with many details, put the most important information at the top (ie. what the reader needs to know) and then fill in the body with details he/she can choose to indulge.
Hey Jane, I need your input on how to prioritize my current work. Can you provide guidance on where I should focus?
Bug XYZ was assigned to me and it's taking longer to complete because we have a dependency on Vendor ABC completing a change to their web service. This is impacting the commitment to my team on Feature 123 because we are near the end of our sprint.
>>Bug XYZ was assigned to me and it's taking longer to complete because we have a dependency on Vendor ABC completing a change to their web service. This is impacting the commitment to my team on Feature 123 because we are near the end of our sprint.
Should be the call to action/last sentence instead of "Lemme know" (I read that as passive-aggressively asking for a follow up?
> because we have a dependency on Vendor ABC completing a change to their web service. This is impacting the commitment to my team on Feature 123 because we are near the end of our sprint.
Too many words. Saying that vendor ABC is completing a web service won't affect your CTA. Also, that last sentence is implied.
Here is how I would send it:
SUBJECT: Bug XYZ blocking sprint. Help?
Hey, Jane. I'm assigned to bug XYZ. We're held up waiting for something from Vendor ABC; this might make us blow our sprint. Can you help me re-prioritize this?
Now, if Jane is one that prefers having everything upfront and is diligent about getting to her emails, then a longer, more detailed message makes sense. However, I usually send my emails with the intent of illiciting a follow-up response; too much information == TL;DR
- start with the request, so the recipient knows why they are reading the main content of the email before they start
- give them all the information that you can to help them respond
- and then end with the request again so it's clear what you actually need and they don't have to scroll back up to read it.
the request shouldn't be more than a sentence, so it's not significantly adding to the length to repeat it.
don't be shy about asking for a response - the whole point of an email should be to get a response, and being clear about what you need in the response is just helping your recipient. And if you don't need a response, be clear about that too - but if you're sending email that doesn't require a response, reconsider whether you need to be sending the email.
That e-mail should have been written in a style where "yes" could be a sufficient answer to the "lemme know" if the supervisor agrees, and currently it's not.
>Bug XYZ was assigned to me and it's taking longer to complete because we have a dependency on Vendor ABC completing a change to their web service. This is impacting the commitment to my team on Feature 123 because we are near the end of our sprint.
Pss, amateur. That's way too many words.
should I keep fixing bug XYZ or focus on feature 123? Vendor ABC is taking longer than we thought to fix their stuff.
And sometimes add a smiley so they know you're not made of circuits yourself too.
Jane, should I keep fixing bug XYZ? Im blocked by Vendor ABC.
I can work on Feature 123.
I'm focusing on feature 123 since XYZ is blocked by ABC.
Jane, I'm focusing on feature 123 since XYZ is blocked by ABC.
TO: Jane Janeson <email@example.com>
SUBJECT: APPROVE: I'm focusing on feature 123 since XYZ is blocked by ABC. EOM
That's where I always forget to do :) :( :)
Eg. @stacey - can you get me the numbers on whatever?
If you need someone to take up the cause you have identified, you need to specifically ask them so they have to say "No, I'm not going to do that" if they're not going to pick it up. This is as much for their benefit as yours. When someone must say "Yes, I will do that" or "No, I will not do that" it helps them draw a black and white line around what they are willing or not willing to take on as part of their job. In a world where boundaries are grey, life itself is grey, it's hard to have a feeling of completion in anything. When you have no sense of completion, it leaves you feeling like you never really accomplish anything and being pushed with the current, not in charge of your own destiny.
Help people to say "Yes, that is mine" and "No, that is not mine" it is not only helpful for you to know who is in charge of something, it is helpful for them as well. It will help them to say "Actually, I've got too much on my plate already, I don't have any more capacity to take on any more just now. It would be really helpful if you could ask someone else to take this on."
That way the email is short AND the link can be reshared!
That's Google Docs or Office 365.
"Hey Jane; let's 1:1."
Or, if you think face to face communication is a waste of time,
"Hey Jane; pick one for Friday: feature 123 or bug xyz?"
SUBJECT: Bug XYZ blocked. Feature ABC?
Vendor ABC is blocking Bug XYZ. This gates Feature 123.
How do we prioritize?
XYZ is blocked by Vendor ABC. Feature 123 is affected.
The author has decided to provide poor communication because she can’t handle her inbox. One word replies can be extremely misleading and will cost her more time overall than reading and replying to her emails properly. I would be fuming if I was her boss or worked for her.
On the contrary! The author has decided to provide efficient, immediate, communication, instead of vaguely planning to send a more detailed reply later if she maybe gets around to it.
If everybody treated email this way it would be 100x more efficient. If her reply doesn't contain the info you need, just reply back asking for the info you need, and she'll reply within minutes.
I once worked with a senior engineer who would write incredibly long, detailed emails to the point that his manager would ask, how do you have time to write these and not complete this (underspecified, unrealistic) task? He ended up getting PIP'ed and fired. I counseled him many times to keep his emails to 4-5 sentences tops. He just couldn't do it.
It leaves some things unsaid, but better to say them once. Like I sometimes reply "OK" or "got it" to a long request by a manager when I have nothing further to say, but if i DO have questions/concerns, they know I will say more. With that shared understanding, receiving an "ok" saves us both time and energy. Its really great.
If that assumption is wrong and involves millions of dollars or hundreds of person-hours, what happens to your company? This is only good if the response CAN be brief and still be adequate.
A counter example is Nintendo, where Sakurai was literally recorded, so people wouldn't be confused about the project status and what he told them to do.
I've found this to be less and less true these past years with the rise of Slack.
These days, most of my email inbox searches come up empty because what I'm looking for actually happened in Slack.
"Hey boss, here's a quote for the thing we buy, can I please get your approval for the spend?"
That's perfectly sufficient, and it's a single word.
Also I've found single word replies are a nice way of telling if it's actually the big boss that's replying to you, or their PA :)
I see that as efficient communication. No BS
None, of my emails were intended to be mean, I just didn't see the point in fluffing up my emails, and only responded with the required information, but I guess people require the fluff or they get their feelings hurt.
"Fluff" is a highly subjective term. What may be fluff for you could be critical signalling for others. Stripping everything down to the bare-bones of what you (or I) may think answers the request sounds intentionally flippant and dismissive. If we fail to address the recipient in a context they understand and share with us that is taken as an offense.
With a little effort, however, it is totally possible to be cogent, compact, AND polite.
Given your many bad reviews, do you think it might be worthwhile to revisit your data?
But what will come across as "curt" or "mean" is if your e-mails are substantially less fluffy than those of your boss or your co-workers. You need to adapt to the style in use in the business, not because it is objectively curt or mean, but because people judge whether or not you're being curt or mean subjectively based on their base of comparison, and that is your co-workers.
You have to be especially careful to not treat people who don't report to you as if they're your subordinates. It's bad to do that to people on your own team, and it's worse to do that to people on another team. A good way to build a bad relationship with someone is to treat them like your lackey when they're not even in the same reporting chain as you.
I've been treated like this before, by someone on another team who sent me a number feature requests that involve significant new work, and by "requests", I mean "demands", without any fluff or niceties or anything. He did this without opening a new ticket (in a company where anything requiring new work needs one), without CCing my boss, and only rarely CCing his boss. This has always resulted in me switching into full-on form letter mode: "Please make your feature request by opening a JIRA ticket in the [redacted] project, and management will choose how to prioritize it.", with my boss and my skip level CC'd on the email.
You can get away with some reduced formality when addressing people reporting in to a layer below you but on another team, but "get away with" being the operative part. You will not get away with bypassing managers - even if you manage to sneak it past them now, it'll make people look out for future attempts.
Sometimes if you know everyone well it may be ok to e-mail someone direct and cc their manager and address it to both and suggest the person you're sending it to would be a good person to carry out the work, but I'd take care to make it clear it's up to said manager unless I have very strong reasons to ask for a specific person and then too the manager should at least be informed..
I've been on both ends of this, and more than once told off my managers for bypassing me because of the disruption caused.
For everyone else I throw in the fluff to keep things amicable. When I do that - sometimes I feel like I'm wasting time - but in the end I believe it protects you from people thinking you are a jerk - or worse introducing bias into decisions that might be made that could go against you or your team.
Personally, I feel like my writing skills are better than my verbal skills, so I default to email, because email plays to my strengths. But over the years I've been taught that I'm in the minority on this. Many managers and co-workers greatly prefer to have a conversation. Often, they feel like they are not getting the facts when they engage in written communications. Apparently they need to see my face and read my body language. Apparently this is true even when the subject is deeply technical, like talking about the APIs our microservices use to talk to each other.
1. Reply now
2. Do the best you can in the time you can spare
It's email. If people need more they can ask for it.
At least now they know you'll reply.
Here's my take:
Anything long-lived belongs on wiki, ticket system or other shared storage location. E-mail a notification to say there's an update, but the official version doesn't belong archived forever in everyone's inboxes -- well, everyone other than employees who happened to start after it was sent, of course.
Quick questions are better done over chat, if for no other reason than the single-line interface tends to encourage single-line questions.
Long conversations are better had in person or by video chat. How many times have you been on an e-mail thread that included several angry paragraphs written back and forth because of an incorrect assumption or simple misunderstanding?
My ideal interactions start with a chat message or ticket, switch to in-person/video if needed, and document the result (if relevant) in a ticket or wiki page. No e-mail involved.
In the case of asking for time off, my rationale is to avoid making someone spend time evaluating if my request is acceptable.
Put the most important bits first. Be as brief as possible while still being courteous. Recap at the end, including specifically calling out necessary next steps.
My experience is that people often tend to include detail that is only of interest to them, often because they're not certain their request will stand on its own.
Only spend time to add information you're certain is necessary (and I know I often err on this); if your manager needs more info to make a decision, they'll ask.
People will often be grateful if you spare them the details of things they don't need the details of, as long as you can show you've done your work if/when they do ask. The more they can trust you to have data to back up what you ask for, the less they'll actually ask.
It's not simply an issue of length, its communication and I guess maturity, experience and savvy.
Of course if you already have authority then it's no longer a communication thing but a power thing, as things will anyway get done and some are inevitably waiting for opportunities to suck up to you. So no point aping a CEOs style if you are not a CEO.
Try those short replies to your boss for a while and see how it goes. ;-)
I bet on the call your replies are short. So just reverse the order: make your emails short and to the point with the abstract of your reasoning behind it. End with you can discuss in detail on a conference call. I bet no one takes you up on it.
This isn't something to emulate. People who only read the first few words of an email before replying make communication harder for everyone else. Sometimes things can't be accurately summed up in half a sentence.
I have a rule: Ask exactly one question in an email. Because asking more doesn't ever work.
Dear Ms. Busy Client,
In order to complete Project X on time, we need your decisions about the following by end of day Friday, please:
1) How many widgets will be required?
2) Do you prefer the red or the green?
3) If we order the widgets from China instead of Mexico, we can save $10 per widget, but delivery will take twice as long. We believe this trade-off is worthwhile because foo. Please confirm that this is acceptable to you.
your humble vendor
Then if you still don't get an answer, you ask for a meeting or call like you would have to anyway, but at least you have a handy checklist to make it efficient.
In this example it might not make a difference, but sometimes you can make some progress if you get to know if it should be red or green even before you know if they want to move production to China.
Most importantly, many questions make the email feel more overwhelming. Three short emails can each often get an immediate response. An email with three questions needs to be found time to answer.
The point is not to write all the extra words in the first place.
I read all the email from people on my team.
I also receive a lot of email from various sources in the organization as well as external sources - and sometimes all I'm looking for is the subject to decide if it's worth my time to open it and read it.
I feel that not all of that non-team based email is worth my time opening, reading/scanning, then archiving or deleting - time that adds up over the years: How many days of your life have you spent organizing your inbox so that your number is 0?
A stack is a beautiful thing :)
If I don't care about it, it goes away with minimal effort after a little time.
I don't want to be a slave to my email inbox - and at the same time I value the sources of the incoming emails that I don't always read - I read some just not all - and that's ok with me and I do that when it's socially acceptable (not trying to be a jerk about it).
Never change, Buzzfeed.
I wish that E-mail clients didn’t give so much control to senders. (Oh, you picked a crappy Subject line so now I need to use that in my list forever? Oh, you rambled for the first 1-2 sentences so now my message preview is useless. Oh, you mark every E-mail “high priority” so now that sort column doesn’t really organize things usefully.)
On the flip side, they probably deserve more than a casual glance and a two word response.
I would hazard to say most people don't care about their inbox. I for one don't mind at all if an email I didn't read festers in my inbox for years, after all if it's not urgent enough to call or physically reach out to me about it it's not that big a deal.
I am not a slave to my email, just like I don't feel the need to pick up my phone every time it rings. Have I missed some time sensitive information? Occasionally. Has it blown my life up and caused a world of hurt? Not once.
That's me. I am very conscientious with emails. Nearly all get actioned or a reply and I often use it as a to-do list. But I also get both my work and personal inboxes to zero every weekend :-) It definitely makes me feel better as things sitting waiting to be done make me anxious (to the point of getting all the cooking stuff into the dishwasher before sitting and eating a meal :-D)
Exactly. If someone has a problem with me taking a couple of hours to get back to an e-mail I say, "you wouldn't send the fire brigade a postcard would you?"
Wow that's some deep social commentary - similar to Gogol's "overcoat"
Doing X like Person Y makes life Z really only works well when you are basically very similar to person Y.
Emailing like a CEO works best when you are a CEO, and are above office politics.
Probably shouldn't email like a CEO if you aren't one.
Often I get things that I need to get to a desktop to properly respond to.
At least with email I can "Mark Unread" or label/put in a folder. I wish Slack had a way to snooze notifications while still letting you read the whole thing.
I find myself moving to a different email address. Deleting around 9.5k emails there got me down below 500 emails. It is making it increasingly difficult to bother to log back into my old address.
So this article is kind of timely for me.
DO NOT TOP POST
Seriously, posting inline is easier to write and read and makes your email more clear. You don't have to wrangle your words to make it clear what part of their email you're replying to. If you don't need to refer to anything they said, delete the whole email and just put in a couple of words alone.
Stop top posting!
Bottom posting is a good way to be branded "that weirdo who can't follow standard procedure". In the business world, this old Japanese proverb applies: "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."
Really? What's his email? I think I direct-emailed him before at blogmaverick and didn't get a response.
had this as first hit: https://www.wikihow.com/Contact-Mark-Cuban
If you are the CEO you can ask your IT team to check on emails and they jump on it pretty quick. If you don't have that ability then remember the following.
Subjects of emails trigger anti-spam. So be choice, sparse, and unique if possible with email subjects.
I want Inbox Zero for Life: https://xph.us/2013/01/22/inbox-zero-for-life.html
You just reminded me how glad I am that I aggressively hid every upworthy, clickify, clickhole, and buzzfeed from Facebook. It's somewhat tolerable that way.