Email brevity – make it easy for the reader

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 17th October 2016

Keep this in mind the next time you write an email. Your reader is usually busy, distracted, bored, on the run, or overwhelmed. Or all of the above. If you want to get cut-through in a world where 100+ messages a day is normal, you need to stand out by writing brief and concise communications that help the reader to understand the issue, question, request or recommendation quickly.

A friend of mine once worked in the Attorney General’s office. When she or any of the team had to meet with the Director General, they were expected to have a twenty-minute overview of the issue prepared, as well as a two-minute overview. They knew that as his schedule shifted, their meeting could be pared down to two minutes, and they were expected to be able to succinctly nail the issue and any recommendations. This was really hard, but it taught her a great skill.


I reckon the same is true in emails. If you take the time to think about what you are trying to achieve with the email, and the best way to make it easy for the reader to get the point quickly, it will benefit both them and you. It will benefit the reader because they don’t have to do as much work to understand what is needed. It will benefit you as they are more likely to action the email in a timely way. Win-win. This is an example of what I call a ‘Serving Mindset’. Working with others in a way that is productive for you, as well as being productive for the group.

Here are some ideas that will help you to write emails that serve:

  • Write a relevant subject line that describes the purpose of the email
  • Summarise the issue, question or recommendation in the first paragraph
  • List any actions required near the top of the email
  • If a decision is needed, frame the email to simply require a Yes or No response
  • If more complicated, give them an A, B or C choice
  • Always write with the reader in mind
  • Review what you wrote before you send it. It can be tightened up even more!

Mark Twain is known to have once apologised in a letter to his brother for writing such a long letter. He suggested that he did not have time to write a short one. With that, I will listen to my own advice and will stop writing now.


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