Advertising
Advertising

Mastering the Short Email

Mastering the Short Email

Mastering the Short Email

    “I apologize that this letter is so long. I did not have the time to make it short”

    — BLAISE PASCAL

    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.

    When you send email, though, you most definitely mean for it to be read. By a person, even. With everyone’s inboxes bulging at the seams with unwanted come-ons, weekly newsletters, Amazon notices telling them about the latest product that people who bought whatever they bought also bought, status updates, listserv posts, and who knows what else, you face an awful lot of competition in your recipient’s inbox for their attention.Getting read is no small feat in and of itself; getting your reader to take action even a greater accomplishment.

    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.

    Advertising

    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.sentenc.es is a personal policy that all email responses regardless of recipient or subject will be five sentences or less. It’s that simple.

    You add the link to your email signature, dash off your five-sentence response, and let your recipient know that you are looking out for his or her time. (For the really daring, Davidson set up domains with even fewer sentences, down to two.sentence.es.)

    That’s all well and good, of course, but how can you make sure you say what you need to say if you limit yourself to five sentences? (Or even if you make the less-radical commitment to just write as short an email as possible?) You don’t want to leave anything out, right?

    Unfortunately, concision isn’t really taught or, to be honest, valued sufficiently. The huge novel is seen as more significant than the slim novella, the fat envelope more important than the thin one, the 10-page essay as more A-worthy than the 5-page essay. Teachers actually encourage wordiness, giving students instructions to write papers “at least” 500 words long, or 6 pages, instead of encouraging the shortest possible length in which you can fully express your thoughts.

    Advertising

    Fortunately, super-entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki has offered a good guide to the five-sentence email (scroll down to point #9). He says,

    Whether UR young or old, the point is that the optimal length of an email message is five sentences. All you should do is explain who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by.

    (Don’t ask me what purpose the seemingly out-of-place IM-speak serves there – let’s just chalk it up to 5 saved keystrokes.)

    If we take Kawasaki’s advice to heart, a good outline for a five-sentence email might look something like this:

    1. Who are you? This might be skipped if you already have a relationship with the recipient; otherwise, in as little space as possible, explain the relevant facts about yourself.
    2. What do you want? Explain why you’re writing the email, what you expect your recipient to do about it, and any relevant information they need to respond with the appropriate action.
    3. Why should you get it? Or, more to the point, why should they bother? Explain why your request is important, and if relevant, what’s in it for them.
    4. When do you need them to act? Open-ended requests get open-ended responses – that is, they get responded to whenever the recipient gets around to it. Be as specific as possible, so that your recipient a) has a sense of urgency, b) feels that their response is important to you, and c) feels inspired to act.

    So, for example, emailing a professor to ask for an extension on an essay (that must be at least 10 pages long…) might look something like this:

    Professor Wax,

    I’m a student in your Thursday afternoon anthropology class, and I’m having some trouble finding enough references for my term paper. Could you please give me an extra week to complete the assignment? I realize this might affect my grade, but I really want to give you the best paper I can, not just 10 pages of filler to make up for the missing information. Please get back to me by tomorrow morning so I can plan my writing schedule.

    Thanks,

    Ace Tuden

    Or an email to a colleague asking for data you need to finish a report might look like this:

    Dustin,

    I’m working on the report for our proposal to Acme, Inc. and really need the figures from the marketing analysis you ran. Could you get those to me by the end of the day so I can wrap this up? As you know, this report is crucial if we want to land that co-branding deal with Acme!

    Best,

    Emma Ployee

    Notice that both of those examples are less than five sentences – the point isn’t to shoehorn your work into a particular format but to write as little as you need to get the point across.

    Sometimes, of course, that means writing more than five sentences. Kawasaki’s advice presupposes that most email is requesting some kind of information, but that’s not always the case. But if you force yourself to think in terms of a five sentence email, and you go over a sentence or two, you will be far more effective than if you dash off a 2,000-word treatise.

    While emails are technically just text, just writing, and therefore could theoretically be as long as you care to make them, in reality longer emails are more likely to go unread , and less likely to be read carefully, as short ones. If more information is needed, a formal report, a webpage, a memo, or some other form of document is probably going to be better-suited to presenting it than an email. Send an attachment, send a link, or schedule a face-to-face meeting if necessary; don’t blast off a giant email that takes you hours to write in the vain hope that it will be read.

    More by this author

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion How to Become an Expert (And Spot out One Nearby)

    Trending in Communication

    1 15 Ways to Practice Positive Self-Talk for Success 2 What Is Self Awareness (And How to Increase Yours) 3 3 Keys to Success in Life (That Will Change You in 2019) 4 How To Control Your Emotions Effectively 5 How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on July 23, 2019

    3 Keys to Success in Life (That Will Change You in 2019)

    3 Keys to Success in Life (That Will Change You in 2019)

    Do you want to program your mind and hack your body to stay in a positive state, a state of action taking throughout the day? I suggest you read on.

    We will look at 3 keys to success that successful people are doing that you can model to program your mind to be in the state of succeeding from the moment upon waking, and make decisions throughout the day that will lead you towards your desires.

    The Biggest Obstacle to Success: Going on Autopilot

    One of the biggest pitfalls in the modern society is to fall into the trap of going on autopilot, to be walking dead and do what everyone else are doing. Most of us are too busy reacting and responding to the environment and what’s happening around us.

    While we should act and take charge of our own world and our own reality. We forget to stay focused and we forget about our goals.

    Learn to be conscious. Being more conscious in your day-to-day decisions will lead you to take the appropriate actions to reach your goals.

    Have a purpose with life, act according to your values, and don’t let people tell you what to do or how things should be.

    When you start to make more conscious decisions, you will start to think about if this is going to take you closer to your goals or drift you further away.

    Why are you doing what you’re doing right now? Why are you reading this? Nothing else to do? Or are you reading this site so you might pick up a thing or two to consciously incorporate in your life to improve yourself that will move you in the direction you want?

    What are your goals? Be healthy? Lose weight? Be fit? Get the dream job? Have the dream house? Live the dream life? Make a certain amount of money? Start a family?

    If you truly want to pursue these goals and actually see them come true, you need to start taking actions consciously.

    Advertising

    3 Keys to Success in Life (That You Can Start Doing Now)

    There are 3 things we have to consciously start doing:

      Now I’ll show you how you can achieve each of them in details.

      1. Write down Your Goals

      The first thing you do in the morning will determine what your day is going to be like. Program your mind to be in a powerful state from the moment upon waking, and you are guaranteed to have a productive and great day.

      How you can do this is by writing your goals down, every morning. Then, once you’ve done that, circle the most important goal,  the goal that in the long-term will have the most impact on your life.

      Now ask yourself this question: “What actions can I make today that will change everything and take me closer to this goal?

      Write down all the actions you can think of, circle the two most important ones and start doing them. Don’t stop until it’s done.

      This is an extremely powerful method of getting in the right state first thing in the morning. Instead of wandering around half-dead and spending 30 minutes to wake up, you are hacking your mind to be productive.

      Another powerful reason for writing down your goals is that by reading them it makes us feel good, write them as if they’re already accomplished. You’re already there.

      Re-reading and re-writing them every morning will ensure you to be in a resourceful state where you act based on your goals. You will make conscious decisions throughout the day that will support your goals and take you closer to them.

      Advertising

      Goals that are not written down are merely wishes. Learn how to set great goals here: How to Set SMART Goal to Make Lasting Changes in Life

      The power of writing goals as if you’re already there takes us to point number 2.

      2. Create a Powerful Belief System

      Ask any successful person what their number one rule for succeeding is. They all have this in common:

      They believe in themselves and what they’re doing, and they are not afraid to say it.

      If you don’t believe in yourself, why would anyone else?

      When people ask you about your goals in life, don’t be afraid to say it out loud. If you have high goals, they might laugh and look at you funny. But if you’re insecure about your goals, you will make insecure decisions that will lead you nowhere.

      Go against the grain, stand out. After all, how many people in the world today are actually living the dream? Now, how many of these people will respond something in the likes of “I don’t know” if you ask what their goals are?

      Be determined and believe in yourself. People will respect you for having the guts for going after what you truly desire.

      I once heard a story about a guy that worked in a video store. Every day he would bring two magazines to work, one was an entrepreneur magazine and the other was a magazine loaded with expensive and fast-riding cars. His boss would ask him why he was bringing these magazines to work every day and his answer was: “I’m picking out the car I’m going to buy.”

      The response from the boss was like most average minds saying he was killing himself thinking like that, he would never ever get that car and would just end up disappointed when it never happened.

      Advertising

      Turned out, the guy later quit the job at the video store and followed his dream. Some years later he return to the video store to return a video, and he did so in the car he picked out from the magazine.

      The same people were working in the store as the day he used to work there. Now can you imagine the looks on their faces when he turned up in the car they said he never ever would get?

      Priceless. And it all started by creating a powerful belief system.

      The first step to living and achieving your dream is to believe it and imagine it. When you believe in your mind that you’ve already achieved your goals, you will develop a sense of certainty. That certainty will lead to action steps, when you know what the outcome is going to be it’s much easier to pick out the actions that are necessary to get there.

      You are certain you will live in the body you want.

      You are certain you will live in the dream house with the dream family.

      You are certain you will have the job you want, and earn the money you believe you’re worth.

      By constantly repeating in your mind the images of yourself succeeding, you create neural pathways in the brain. Your mind can’t tell the difference between what you vividly imagine and the reality.

      Go out and day dream. Go out and believe, imagine already living your dreams and goals. With enough repetition, you become certain that this is the only outcome and you work backwards to find ways for making it happen.

      The next step in personal success that will lead to life success and happiness is to..

      Advertising

      3. Invest in Yourself

      A wise man was once asked what the best possible investment someone could make. His answer was short, sweet and simple: “Invest In Yourself.”

      The man’s name is Warren Buffett. He is known as the world’s greatest investor. According to Forbes, he has a net worth of $53.5 Billion.

      Hiring a personal coach, getting a membership at a gym, buying healthy foods, books and education are not expenses. They are investments: investments in yourself.

      Some things you can do today to invest in yourself are:

      • Go to the gym and train. Physical training releases endorphins and makes you feel great. It increases productivity and energy levels. By investing time in the gym, you’ll be better able to handle daily tasks and what life throws at you. Forty-five to fifty minutes is all you need, it’s actually the best time to shoot for in a workout.
      • Eat good food. When you go to the grocery store after work, ask yourself: “What foods will nourish my mind and body to feel and perform better?” You are setting yourself up for greatness and consciously making yourself aware of what foods will empower you, therefore make better decisions.
      • Start reading books. Everyone buys books, but very few actually reads them cover to cover.
      • Stop reading books and start studying them. Few read the books they buy, but even fewer remembers what they read. Stop reading books and start studying books.
      • Study at least one hour a day. “One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.” – Brian Tracy
      • Take notes. Never leave home without a pen and a piece of paper. The best ideas often comes in the least appropriate times, write them down. Don’t trust your mind to remember them—it won’t. Writing it down right away will also allow your mind to store and come up with more ideas. Nowadays, you can use plenty of notes-taking apps like Evernote.
      • Learn a new skill. Learn something new every day, a new skill or a new word. One new skill every day equals 365 new skills a year. Now imagine where you could be a year from now if you start doing it today?
      • Do something for yourself. Yes, hard work is a major factor for succeeding, but at least once per month do something fun, something outrageous and spontaneous that makes you feel alive. Have fun and enjoy yourself.

      The Crucial Rule to Follow

      The last piece of advice and rule to follow: Keep on, keeping on.

      Sometimes, things get hard and the road seems too long. You just have to keep on, keeping on.

      Revisit your goals and start imagining, all of the sudden you’ve changed your state and you’re on the right track again. The track that will take you to greatness.

      Use these 3 keys to create your destiny and achieve what you want in life.

      Go get it.

      More About Achieving Success

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

      Read Next