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How long should an email be? The shorter and the more succinct, the better. Perhaps five sentences at most is a good goal. Or 50-200 words roughly is another good goal.
Your subject line matters, too!
Why should emails be concise?
The amount of messages people get in their inboxes is just so much that it’s important to keep things to the point. Help people get through their inbox and make sure they stop at your message, understand it, and value it. That’s not usually done by sending a 1,500-word message.
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Five sentences or less?
I first heard about this website that encourages short emails when I saw it in somebody’s signature line:
Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?
The website explains the project and some copy to add to your email signature if you are up to the challenge.
I thought this would be easy and added the five-sentence disclaimer to my emails.
My emails are pretty to the point already, and that should be easy. It wasn’t. I started overthinking my emails. That seemed short and is actually six sentences.
Of course, it’s more of a guideline, but a good one to keep in mind. Long emails – especially ones with long run-on sentences in never-ending paragraphs are terrible. They are even worse when an important takeaway is embedded in one of those.
“You didn’t see my request? I sent it last week in one of my 2,993-word emails.”
No, I didn’t. Sending emails doesn’t mean they were received. And even less that they were understood and that tasks were added to a to-do list. And please don’t send me another “Per my last email…”
The case for some longer emails
Long emails are good from time to time to document something in a project that was already discussed. They are not good for having a lengthy (and collaborative) exchange.
People read things incorrectly. There’s no body language to read intent. Add to that, people who pick the wrong words, and long emails are a mess.
“You are so nice in person. Why are your emails so prickly?”
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Conciseness can help with communication
But when it comes to how long emails should be, shorter emails should be the answer if we want to ensure our message is heard.
When a message appears that it needs to be longer, perhaps that’s a sign to pick up the phone or hop on a Zoom call.
Some ideas to keep emails short:
- Use bullet points
- Include one key concept per email
- Paragraph breaks!
Of course, some of us need to consider the positives of short emails. I still see mobile signatures that say: “Excuse the brevity. Sent from mobile.”
Brevity doesn’t mean it’s not a complete thought, but maybe limit the number of thoughts in each email to one to keep it shorter.