Email Etiquette, Part 1: Brevity Is Power

Have you ever received an email from a colleague that was so much longer than it needed to be?

Have you ever received an email with way too many questions for you?

Everyone is guilty of it at some point. It is part of the learning curve in the professional landscape. Think about it: when was the first time that emails became important to send? Probably college when you anxiously emailed a professor about getting into their class or emailing them to set up a meeting and talk about your bombed midterm.

College can be the first time that emails have any consequences attached to them, and emails sent in college are the first exposure to the emails that one will subsequently have to send to future employers. Cue the stress response. Remember that first time?

Do you think a college professor really has any time to read your long email and respond with a novel in kind?

Frankie Rain, author of Zero Inbox, a guidebook on how to manage overloaded mailboxes, calls everyone out on the trend of lengthy emails when she states:

"Do you know who writes long emails? Often, its people with nothing better to do —a long email is a dead giveaway that the sender had a lot of extra time and emotional investment in the subject matter of the email, the person they’re sending the email to, or both." 

Furthermore, she says:

"Do you know who writes short emails? Here’s a brief list: people who are extremely busy and don’t have the time to write out a long reply. Also, people who have carved out about 15 seconds of their valuable time to respond to an email, who you can almost guarantee will never think of a particular email again after they have sent their response."

Now think about that long email you sent in college to a professor begging him/her to let you take their class. You had an emotional investment in it because it likely had to do with your graduation requirements and so you wrote more than you should have.

The cure to overwriting? THINK BEFORE YOU WRITE. Ask yourself "What is the intention of X?"

What is the point, and how does it serve your needs?

So what is the real point of your long email? What do you actually want to ask or say?