We all know those emails that sit in our inbox, languishing for weeks or even months on end, guilt piling up because we haven’t responded yet. Odds are good that those emails are long. Multiple paragraphs, numerous topics hit on, plenty of vague questions like, “Thoughts?” We can’t summon the will to engage them, and so there they sit, week after week.
While we often think of this issue in terms of our own annoyance at other people’s lengthy messages, the shoe is of course also on the other foot; people may be out there, right now, struggling to respond to your emails. Youcan be the one who ends up being ignored.
You can help ease the burdens of other people’s inboxes, and be more likely to get a timely, helpful response to your emails, by sending shorter, quick-to-the-point messages that are intentionally crafted to be easy to respond to.
6 Tips for Sending Shorter Emails
Whether offering a pitch, making an introduction, or simply messaging a coworker, the tips below will help you be a more effective communicator.
1. Make sure that email is even the right medium.
We’ve all experienced that seemingly never-ending email chain comprised of dozens of back-and-forth messages which seem to take up entire days and sap all your work energy. When email threads get this long, it’s generally because the subject requires addressing lots of nuanced nodules, or there’s some confusion or misunderstanding that needs ironing out.
If an email chain is getting long and frustrating, pick up the phone. Chances are high that you’ll clear up the problem and clarify things in just a few minutes.
The phone is also a good option if the matter is urgent; you don’t want to end up angry or annoyed just because the recipient wasn’t incessantly checking their inbox.
If an email is getting into multi-paragraph territory with multiple layers of response requested, perhaps scheduling a meeting is needed, so you can work through issues in real-time, rather than via lengthy, strung-out essays.
If you know that a colleague is online and you need a quick response about a non-urgent matter, Slack or chat is likely the best option.
Only when you’re sure these other options aren’t the right avenue for communication, should you proceed to send your email.
2. Take the time.
The reason emails end up being long is often that we don’t put much real thought into them, and end up rambling on and on. Perhaps paradoxically, a clear, short email may take more time to write than a long one. But taking 10-15 minutes on the front end to ensure that your message is tight and the request is clear (more on how to do this below) will save buckets of time later on, and is more likely to get a quick and useful response.
If you have trouble getting used to this process, spontaneously type out your email as you normally would, then take time to pare it way down to a core message with as little background/context as is necessary to get the point across.
3. Craft a potent, informational subject line.
A specific subject line that addresses the interests/needs of the recipient will make your message more likely to be clicked on. Formulating one also ensures that you yourself have gotten very clear about exactly why you’re sending the email.
Something like “Quick question re: ____” is perfect. If it’s more of a to-do list