We’ve had a few posts over the last year discussing how to minimize email, improve the processing of email, and the like. But how about reducing the length of emails themselves?
I happen to be among the most verbose of email writers. When I get riled up, associates at my company have to deal with my very (very) lengthy missives. Sometimes I’ll even throw a hidden required action into the last paragraph to see if people read the whole thing. I can pontificate in very flowery language for page after page after page. After all, isn’t writing an art?
Perhaps the art is in the finesse, the brevity. Last week Lifehack had a great post on Mastering the short email.
Good writers know that lean, vibrant language is almost always preferable to verbose, rambling writing. There is virtually no writing in the world so good that it can’t be made better by making it shorter. There are exceptions, of course – a contract needs to cover every possible potentiality, as does the text of an international treaty, but these documents are not really meant to be read, they’re meant to be enacted.
Writing well is one key – good prose is engaging and persuasive, no matter what the aim. And writing concisely is a big part of writing well. But writing concisely offers benefits on its own – the short email, particularly the email whose contents fit into the preview pane without any scrolling, has a much higher chance of gaining a reader’s attention than one that starts off with three pages about trivia.
Ok, but how do those of us who love to write, and write, implement "lean email writing?"
This is what Mike Davidson figured out – if his recipients were half as slammed as he was, he figured they could use some relief from long-winded emails that ramble on and on in the guise of pleasantries. Instead, he committed himself to writing emails that were five sentences or less, every single time. To explain his decision, and to encourage others to follow suit, he created the site five.sentenc.es, which explains:
- The Problem: E-mail takes too long to respond to, resulting in continuous inbox overflow for those who receive a lot of it.
- The Solution: 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 sentences. The Lifehack post goes on to give some examples. Guy Kawasaki also discussed this method back in 2006. Looks hard, but a worthy challenge.
Sorry, I won’t be applying the same philosophy to my blog posts. I need a release somewhere, especially if I shorten my emails.