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How To Write an Email, Part 4: Just One Topic


Robby

I’m about to invoke a tired saying in my ongoing discussion about how to write an email. You know how they say less is more? Well, it’s painfully true in email as well. Write a long, complicated email with a dozen different ideas and no one will read it. Write a short email with exactly idea, and there’s a good chance it might actually work.

Here’s an example of an email that I know you’ve received. I also know you can’t stand it:

Hey Bob, what’s happening? We still playing golf next month? Wanted to check on the status of the Peterson report and also see if we can do lunch with a prospect on Tuesday. I’m thinking Max’s Grill, love that place. Let me know. Also, you had mentioned something about your vacation plans for the summer and I need to get those dates pronto. Can you send those to me? Thanks buddy, Frank.

How are you supposed to respond to that kind of email? If the sender is your boss, you probably muddle through. But no matter who it is, it probably drives you crazy. Where to begin?

pull hair out

The place to start is by not writing that kind of email. It may seem surprising, but it’s better to write five short emails on one topic each than it is to write one massive email with five different questions. Check out these emails:

Hi Bob,

Hope you are well. Just wanted to confirm that we are playing golf on Saturday, August 28 at Oak Meadow. Tee off at 8AM.

Please reply to confirm.

Thanks,
Frank

That was pretty painless, right? It’s also absolutely crystal clear. It makes it easy for Bob to reply. Look at the next one:

Hi Bob,

Hope you had a good weekend!

I’m back in town and have been out of the loop, so I was wondering if you could give me an update about the status of the Peterson report. Please let me know how it’s going and if there’s anything you need me to do to help us meet the deadline of the 31st.

Best,
Frank

Perfect! Even though this is a little longer, it’s actually more comforting to read. Nobody’s pulling out their own hair!

I could go on, but you get the point. One email, one topic. This might end up causing you to write more email messages, but you’ll be clearer and more effective overall.

P.S. What to do if you get one email with five questions? Reply in five different emails, changing the subject line each time. That makes it clear that you are trying to separate the conversations so you can keep track of what’s going on.

That

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About the Blogger: Robby Slaughter is a productivity speaker and expert. He is a principal with a AccelaWork, an Indianapolis consulting firm.

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Fri, August 5 2011 » Personal Organization, Technology Tips

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