Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Perfect E-mail

This weekend I have been taking advantage of the good weather by spending some time working in my garden instead of in front of my computer screen. The decision left me with very little time to write this week’s blog. Ironically though, the lack of time became my source of inspiration.

Recently a business colleague told me the expression “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” He told me that he thought Blaise Pascal had said it. But subsequent research has shown that actually Mark Twain, Voltaire, Ciscero and even T.S. Elliot are all attributed for saying it. (I like to think it was T.S. Elliot because anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am a fan of the poet and indeed he can say so much with such few words, although it can take a while (read ‘a life time’) trying to work out what he actually means.

‘The perfect e-mail’ should be short and to the point. It should be clear without ambiguity, polite and have the result on the reader that was intended by the writer. (So many man hours are lost by making excuses for rushed e-mails which can be avoided by getting them right in the first place).

The trick to e-mail writing is to begin by typing the objective in a maximum of one or two words, such as; to amuse, to inform, to castigate, to motivate etc.. Once this is done write your message as fast as you possibly can. When it is finished, do not re-read it. Stop and switch your attention to something else for at least half an hour. After a suitable pause, re-read your mail with your hands behind your back. After re-reading it, delete all the words you possibly can without destroying the meaning. Ask yourself if it is still in line with the objective.

A big mistake in e-mails is to try and bring two subjects into one mail. Inevitably people reply to one of the subjects but (annoyingly) completely forget the other. It is far better to send two short e-mails, each with their own subject.

E-mails are not suitable as long documents (these are best left as attachments). If the attachment contains important information, paraphrase it in just a few words in the e-mail so the reader sees why he or she should read the attachment.

So, the next time someone sends you a long, boring and irrelevant e-mail you can send them a link to this blog and perhaps they will get the message? To make it easy for you, below you will find a draft text which you can simply cut and paste into your reply. (I wonder how long it will be before someone sends it back to me)!

Thank you for your e-mail, unfortunately I did not have sufficient time to give it the attention it possibly deserved. However to assist you with future correspondence I would like to refer you to an article (see link below) that I think you might find helpful?

Kind regards
(add name here)


stiene said...


Much words , phrases to say it should be short.
Is being "to the point" realy an English expression?

Harley Lovegrove said...

Yes indeed: 'To the point' is an English expression! It means staying on the subject. My idea is to entertain and to inform. My blog is not an sms, so one has to read the verbiage to get my drift (and yes they are English expressions)! ;-) H.