Make Work Suck Less with Better Email
Since I am in the communication bidness, people often ask me for advice on email writing. Many of us spend a great deal of time slinging email. Usually these requests for advice are born from accusation, “Do you teach stuff about writing because (insert name) sends really long emails and they suck [the person and the email].”
Well (insert name), here you are. Email advice from a not-very-good writer.
Read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This comically concise book is a timeless work worth reading annually to improve writing and speaking.
Rule 17: Omit needless words (The Elements of Style).
Rule 12: Choose a suitable design and hold it (The Elements of Style).
Once upon a time I had a tyrannical, disconnected dictator supervisor who demanded that I (and the others) used this specific format for email. Now, free from his oppression, I still use it and am imparting the wisdom on you in the spirit of Rule 12.
Addressee: Enter the addressee’s name here genius – this isn’t Twitter, it’s work. This line should correspond with the ‘To’ line, don’t write to someone in the ‘CC’ line. CC stands for ‘courtesy copy.” And while we’re on it, ‘CC’ is not a verb it’s an acronym. People can’t be “cced” they’re copied.
Action Requested: Clearly convey what you’d like to happen. Some examples are, “For Decision” “For Awareness” “For Action.” Don’t know? Then don’t write the email.
Summary/EXSUM: Only impart what is needed to achieve the action listed above. Write clearly in active voice and always use Rule 17.
Way Ahead: Explain to your reader what will happen next so that they have context in terms of time and project work flow.
Expanded: Include other detail only if necessary for additional context, always adhere to Rule 17.
Sound robotic? It can be and that’s ok; it’s email. We get hundreds of emails a day, using the above technique will prevent 2 emails from becoming 5. In using this technique, may also help you. You may realize you don’t know why you’re writing or that you might lack the information the addressee needs to take a requested action.
Now go to your work place and share the ideas in this post- wield the angry stick of formalization. Beat your leaders, coworkers and subordinates into submission so that you may, someday, enjoy fewer and clearer emails.
Personal note: I used to carry a gun every day at work and now I’m giving advice on email.