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More advice on writing e-mails that trigger quick replies

Posted by Scott Kirsner  December 6, 2009 06:30 AM

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My Sunday Boston Globe column features advice collected from some very efficient people about writing e-mails that recipients will answer -- rather than ignore, or defer until later.

There's also a sidebar: the five essential elements of an e-mail.

I'm publishing some of the best "raw" advice here: e-mails sent to me in response to several questions I asked earlier this week about what people put in the subject line, how they structure messages, and how long they can be. I was also curious whether there are times of the week (or day) when you shouldn't send an e-mail.

And from Twitter, I got these compact gems of advice on how to write more effective outbound messages:


    - @theboynton: mild flattery, a sincere offer to help, and a firm but non-invasive deadline

    - @publicmediagirl: be as specific as possible in subject line re: desired action (feedback? approval?) & topic/substance ("Jones report")

    - @semilshah: Scannable subject line, 1-2 paragraphs max, ask the question up front, no unnecessary niceties, get to the point.

    - @cgunst: Writing good e-mails is like writing any good content. It's not about you, it's about what the recipient is interested in.

    - @hybernaut: after writing any email longer than 2 para, go back and write a 1 sentence summary, identifying your actionable request. with practice you will end up writing that clear request first, and realize that the rest is unnecessary.

    - @sarahebourne: Make it easy to see what the question is, and word it so it doesn't take a novel to answer. Offer alt. channel (i.e., phone)

What's missing from this collection of advice? Post a comment if you would...

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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