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How to Write Better Emails

Get tips on how to write more efficient emails and learn how to cut out the back and forth that slows down a project.

By
Stever Robbins ,
April 27, 2010
Episode #130

Back before email, it took time to communicate. "Instant" messaging wasn't so instant. It required people on horseback to ride for a very long time. If you were commanding a battle, you'd send a rider to your Lieutenant. "Hey, s'up?" They'd write back, "Bored." You'd write back, "Wanna try a sneak attack?" They'd write back, "Nah." It took four horses and two riders for that exchange. Battles got lost a *lot* back then, but Milly the Horse Breeder made a fortune. She was the 1800s equivalent of Lockheed Martin.

Email Isn’t Always Efficient

Coordinating things via email isn't much better. Because there are no horses involved, we mentally treat it as a conversation. You're trying to organize a meeting of the Tofu-as-Building-Material Study Group. You send an email:

"Shall we meet (no pun intended)?"
They write back "Sure. When?"
You write, "How about Friday."
They write, "Can't do Friday. Next week sometime?"
You write, "Tuesday."
They write, "No."
You write, "Wednesday?"
 They write, "Sure. What time?"

You know you've done this, and you've been on both sides of the exchange.

Emailing is Different than a Conversation

That exchange might make a reasonable conversation, but conversations weren't meant to be efficient. If they were, we would beam thoughts to each other. If you've ever been to a high school dance, you know that doesn't work. No matter how hard you beam your thoughts, the guy, girl, or transgendered person of your dreams will not figure out you're interested until you compare notes over coffee decades later.

Word-at-a-time conversation—like the aforementioned email exchange—also risks one of you getting distracted. If someone gets distracted and doesn't reply, you can end up stuck waiting for them and you'll eventually forget, too. After all, it was SO stimulating.

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