Today, I hosted several discussions on "Building a Better Email," about how to make your emails better. So much of our work is done via email, we need to be careful that our messages are clear. Our discussions today focused on email "netiquette" such as providing context in emails, avoiding ALL CAPS (it's considered shouting), and limiting the use of "smileys." We also reviewed a few things we can do in U of M Gmail to make our email more manageable.
Along the same topic, Time Management Ninja writes about a problem we all have experienced: the too-long email. Like many others, I have trouble reading them. Who wants to read a small "book" just to glean a few key points? I'd rather you kept the email "short and sweet." Get to the topic at hand, share only the necessary details, or ask your question. Then, get on with it.
These seem like simple guidelines, but why do emails often get so wordy? The Ninja lists ten reasons people tend to write overly long emails, although I've tried to consolidate them into similar topics. Take note, and avoid these mis-steps:
- The author doesn't know what he or she is trying to say / doesn't know the topic / doesn't edit. And rather than getting it straight before sending the email, the author sort of "works through the problem" while composing the message. Instead, take a few moments before sending to go through your communication to make sure your points are clearly stated and that you have everything in order. Don't make the recipient figure it out.
- Huge "signatures" on emails. Gone are the days when people looked at your email signature as a personal touch. In years gone by, when we used text terminals to check email on servers, the email signature was a way to express individuality. And we looked on signatures as such; some email signatures were quite long and sometimes clever or cute. Today, we don't want to look at your long email signature; many email programs (including Gmail) will omit the signature anyway. Just your name, title, and organization should be enough.
- You are writing a "book" / spamming / rambling. As a general rule, if your email is too long, I assume you have less to say than if you kept the message short. Longer does not equal "more." If you are asking a simple question, it's okay for your email to only have a few lines to set the context, then ask the question.
- You are forwarding a mess. Be careful when sending long email threads to someone else. Do they really need to see everything in that discussion, or only a small part of it? Again, this comes down to editing. Take a few moments before sending to go through your email to remove unnecessary details. Less really is more.
- It shouldn't be an email / multiple emails. Remember the ten levels of communication. Is your message best delivered via an email, or would an in-person discussion be better? Perhaps this topic would be a good discussion topic in a larger meeting, or a brief phone call with a single person. For those items that are truly "For your information," consider sharing via Google+ or Facebook or Twitter, rather than sending your email to a large group.