Authoring Great Email

I actually love e-mail. That is, long form and well-written email that takes more than 10 seconds to read and gives you something to take away. That might be a story from a relative's vacation or a newsletter you're subscribed to. It's something of a dying art in the age of instant global messaging via smartphone. iMessage, BlackBerry Messenger and G+ Huddles have taken the venerable IM client a step further and removed a lot of the need for e-mail. To be honest, a conversation in more-or-less real-time is often way more useful than a wordy e-mail that you need to sit with for 10 minutes.

It's still nice, sometimes, to sit and read such a message.

There's a few things that I think are lacking in the modern e-mail, whether it's a lengthy affair or a brief notification. I also think there are a few things that ought to be lacking but generally aren't:

  • Good vocabulary and formal language. If you're taking the time to write something that could be described in terms of actual paragraphs, then you should be practicing your school-learnin'. Write in good sentence structure and take the time to choose words that are accurate and concise. It'll read better and if you're anything like me then you'll actually enjoy the few minutes of word-crafting.
  • Accuracy is important, and the shorter your e-mail the more critical this is. Especially in a business environment, your e-mail will be afforded very little time. Make good use of it. That doesn't mean your e-mail should be as short as possible but it shouldn't waffle.
  • Don't waste your time on useless cliche, platitudes and apologetic language. "Just to" and "FYI" are both redundant and undermining. If the message isn't important enough to warrant some of the recipient's time then you shouldn't waste yours in sending it. Don't confuse politeness and a disservice of flattery.
  • Address your recipients by name, don't skip it, and only address and send the e-mail to those who need to see it. This is just politeness and shows consideration.
  • Keep your e-mail signature minimal. Don't be patronising; nobody needs to be told that they should consider the environment - we're big enough to make our own ecological decisions. Don't be evasive and attempt to shirk responsibility for your words and don't have an e-mail signature that consistently accounts for two thirds of the total word count.


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