Sometimes email messages can get quite long, especially when you quote much of the material that has been sent in previous emails. Also, emails often get long if you have a lot to say or you need to give a comprehensive overview of a particular business situation.
Most people tend to find that the letters and emails they receive that are short are the ones they responded to most positively and had the best feelings about. Long letters do get a positive response – however, almost invariably, long communications are only given a positive rating if we have a very close and warm relationship with the person who has written to us. We rarely feel positive towards acquaintances and people we do not know, who send us long letters or emails. This has important implications for people using email in business. The vast majority of your emails at work are going to be sent to people you do not know or have only the slimmest of relationships with. Hence anything other than a short email is likely to lead towards a negative feeling in your reader. Play safe; keep it short!
This is all very well in theory, of course, but in practice, particularly at work, you need to include a lot of material. The answer is to treat the email as though it were a covering letter. Then attach the main text as a separate word processor document. All email programs can attach files to them, yet vast numbers of emails are sent without using this facility. The advantage of putting your main material in an attachment is that your recipient immediately views your message in a positive light because it is short and to the point. You should summarise the content of the attachment in a sentence or two – in that way your reader can gain all they need to know, without having to open the attached file. However, if they need more depth you have provided it for them.
One technique you can use for shortening your email is to write the main message in your word processing software, with all the detail you need. Then take a break, do something else and later on, read through your text. Now try to summarise it in a few sentences – that summary should be the main part of your email. Trying to summarise something you have just written is difficult as all the detail will still be in your mind. That’s why taking a break can help you as you leave your mind uncluttered and make summary writing much easier. Your summary email, together with the word processor document as an attachment is much more likely to please your recipient. This means there is considerable value in taking time to construct your email properly, rather than just dashing something off.
Another way in which you can be sure of keeping emails short is to avoid “quoting” vast amounts of previous emails. One of the benefits of the “reply” button on email programs is that you can quote the previous email. In this way the recipient can easily see what you are responding to. However, since many emails go back and forth between various people, the message can quickly become very long indeed — even though most of it is material from previous messages. The answer to solving this is to only quote what you need to send someone in order to make your reply understandable. By all means, press the ‘reply’ button to quote the original email, but then go through the quoted text and delete everything that is irrelevant to what you are going to write about. Doing so is seeing the message from your reader’s viewpoint – they don’t want to wade through the original text (their own!) just to see which point you are commenting on. It is much easier from their viewpoint if your reply is clear. In other words, only use selective quoting – not wholesale quoting of emails as is the most common practice.
An additional reason why some emails are so long is because the author is trying to cover various topics. They are almost ‘brain dumping’ everything they can think of that is important or relevant to the reader. Meanwhile, the poor recipient has to work their way through this mess to try and find out what is important. Good communication, particularly to people we don’t know, is focused communication. That means, in essence, that each email should be about one topic and one topic only. A hint to this is given in the email software itself where you have to type a “subject” for your email.
If your emails are about more than one subject – stop! Each email should only be about one subject. Your recipient will react far more positively if you sent four separate short emails about four subjects than trying to cram all the material into one, inevitably longer message. Also, when these separate messages get replied to, the quoted material is shorter. Hence, think always, one message – one email.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+