Learn to e-mail better

How well do you e-mail?

A few weeks ago I came across a simple, intuitive but worthwhile post on Seth Godin’s blog – an e-mail checklist.

I send lots of e-mails. In searching for a new job, in looking for interviews, in sending pitches for freelance stories.

So, I am immediately incorporating a few of Godin’s points into my style and thought they might help you, too – regardless of profession. I have some thoughts myself.

His list is nearly 40 items long and worth reading. But if you haven’t the time, here are the five best – ones that I think you’re most likely to want to consider.

  1. If it is a cold-call email, and I’m sure it’s welcome, and I’m sure it’s not spam, then don’t apologize. If I need to apologize, then yes, it’s spam, and I’ll get the brand-hurt I deserve.
  2. Do I have my contact info at the bottom? (If not, consider adding it).
  3. Am I quoting back the original text in a helpful way? (Sending an email that says, in its entirety, “yes,” is not helpful).
  4. If this is a press release, am I really sure that the recipient is going to be delighted to get it? Or am I taking advantage of the asymmetrical nature of email–free to send, expensive investment of time to read or delete?
  5. Bonus: Does the subject line make it easy to understand what’s to come and likely it will get filed properly? [Something on which I wrote about getting your press release noticed]

I have some thoughts myself.

Always, always note when you’re copying someone on the e-mail. Explicitly say it in the text, damn it. If I don’t see you mention it, I think you’re trying to slip it by. Think of it like letting someone listen in on our phone conversation without making the effort to tell me. Putting me on speakerphone without telling me – even if you think I can hear, or read the e-mail address list – is dishonest. Even if you don’t mean it.

Relatedly, I can think of only one healthy time you should blind copy someone in a professional message: you are sending a mass e-mail. Then, pleeeease, blind copy everyone, so people can’t steal e-mail addresses, and, really, so we don’t have to scroll through your hundreds of contacts.

But, really, here is my big rule. One hundred words or less.

I have sent lots of emails that I realized were too long. Way more than I’d like to admit. Particularly when I am sending a cold e-mail or sending to an influential contact or a busy someone whose advice I am requesting. Don’t give the details unless they want them. Just 100 words or less.

I still constantly break this rule and most often regret doing it. …100 words or less.

Any other advice?

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