January 1, 2020
On Writing Effective Emails
- Think really hard about what you want to achieve by emailing someone. Can you achieve it another way and preserve their attention? If not, make it as easy as possible for the recipient to give you what you need.
- Ask specific questions rather than open-ended questions.
- Use bullets and whitespace.
- Put in the extra time it takes to keep it brief.1
- Be polite and friendly, but get to the point. — It’s usually ok to skip ‘Hope this finds you well! How was your weekend?’ etc.
- Provide any necessary context as clearly and succinctly as possible (including introducing yourself or reminding them who you are or what the project is and why you are asking them specifically — remember it won’t be as fresh in their mind as it is in yours!)
- Attach or link to any necessary files, documents, or resources.
- Use bold text to draw the eye to important parts (e.g. due dates or actions).
- If it’s a short message to broadcast some info, put it in the subject followed by ‘EOM’ (end of message) so people know they don’t need to open the email (also consider ‘NNTR’ (no need to reply)).
- If asking someone to review a document, tell them which sections you most want them to focus on, and whether you are looking for minor corrections like typos or rephrasing, ideas for new points/sections, or are open to feedback that could result in needing to rewrite the whole thing.
- If asking for career advice, include your CV, and any thinking you’ve done so far. Include whether you are looking for connections (and if so, what kind), guidance, job opportunities, or something else.
- As a sender, consider offering permission to ignore your message. As a recipient, if you won’t get to the email immediately, consider sending a quick response letting the sender know when they should follow up with you.
- Unsubscribe from all marketing or irrelevant emails. Archive anything that doesn’t require action. Move anything that does into a task manager.
“I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write you a short one.” — Blaise Pascal↩︎