How to Write Better Emails

Elon Musk, during a recent interview, described corporations as cybernetic collectives of people and machines. Corporations vary in size and market cap. Why are some corporations more effective than others? I think Communication is a huge part of it.

For example, Amazon.com’s unique communication style. Meetings begin with carefully prepared 6 page memos, read silently by attendees before beginning discussion.

How do most people in corporations communicate? In many cases, they communicate by sending lots of email messages. So, writing more effective emails makes you more effective and helps the rest of the team, too. Your job as a writer of emails is to save the reader’s time.

Five practical tips for being an effective emailer:

  1. Name your target
  2. Just get out with it
  3. Write shorter emails
  4. Make a phone call
  5. Avoid detective games

1. Name your target

When you’re making a request, you must have a person or person(s) in mind who can fulfill your request. Don’t be shy, name them. These people are your target.

Try not to make requests to “somebody” or “anybody” because you will end up with a response from “nobody”. Highlight or tag (@name) the name of your target to grab their attention.

2. Just get out with it

Just get out with it. State your request first and provide detailed context later. People are lazy readers, they can read the first sentence and decide whether to continue reading.

It feels unnatural to skip the build up, but do it anyway. The reader can dig into the meat if they want. Take it to the next level by making the request very succinct.

3. Write shorter emails

Write shorter emails. Try to get it done in 3 sentences or less. Most people are lazy readers, they’re not going to carefully read your wall of text. So, you’re wasting keystrokes typing all of it.

4. Make a phone call

When there is a lot of back and forth, stop using email and make a phone call. Exchanging paragraphs of text back and forth may be a signal a 10 minute phone or in-person conversation would be more effective.

5. Avoid Detective Games

If you’re referencing a document or web site or anything, hyperlink directly to what you’re talking about. Or include a screenshot/image. Better yet, draw a red box around the part of the image you’re talking about.

Don’t make me (the reader), play a game of figuring out what you’re referencing. Save me as many clicks as possible by giving me a hyperlink. Doing this makes it easier for me to understand and reply. We both get better results.

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