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Sharpen your emails x 10

Posted by Paul Hellman  July 5, 2013 11:00 AM

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1) Capture attention.

"Are you about to date a convicted felon?" asks a recent email.

That's an intriguing question, spiced with romance and danger. I'm tempted to pluck this email right out of my spam folder and read it.

But I don't.

Why should anyone read your emails? There are 1,000 reasons not to, starting with the 1,000 other emails in everyone's inbox.

Every email competes for attention. Asking a question is one way to capture it.

2) Update your subject line.

"Let's postpone today's call." That subject line—for a call later today that's not being postponed—was originally written for last week's postponed call. And then never changed.

Updating the subject line is like changing your underwear. Do it at least daily.

3) Manage your emotions.

"I just read your stupid, stupid tip," emailed a reader, apparently unimpressed by my work. "I can't believe you feel good about writing something as stupid as that, and publishing it no less."

Please don't send emails when you're upset—let's assume your message will be forwarded to everyone, and last forever—even if what you're upset about is how many stupid, stupid emails you're getting.

4) Don't email everyone.

294 billion emails were sent in 2010—daily. You probably feel like you received most of them. (Source: Radicati Group.)

Reply to all? Please don't.

5) Avoid most abbreviations.

J = joking; IJ = I'm joking; YMBJ = you must be joking.

YMMV, which means "your mileage may vary," and also, more loosely, "your results may vary," is the "most popular slang look up today" according to

For example: "Whenever I date a convicted felon, it's always very exciting. YMMV."

Do you assume everyone knows these abbreviations? YMBJ.

6) Follow up.

You send someone an email but don't hear back. Don't assume the other person got it, opened it, read it, understood it, or remembered it.

And don't assume their lack of response means anything personal, or anything at all, other than they're drowning in a tsunami of 294 billion emails/day.

So follow up a few days later. And when you do, try something different (see #7).

7) Consider the phone.

Yes, email is fast, but sometimes a phone call, or short hallway conversation, is faster.

Sometimes, putting a note in a bottle and hurling it out to sea feels faster than playing email ping-pong all day.

And don't forget the old-fashioned letter. No one sends them anymore, which means no one's getting 294 billion of them. Your message will be read.

8) Respond.

Respond to emails quickly. Even if it's just to let the other person know you won't be responding quickly.

9) Adapt your style.

When you email, you're operating from one of two styles: letter-writing or texting.

a) If you're a letter-writer, like me, you dress up your emails with greetings ("Hi" is the email version of "Dear." Whatever happened to "Dear?" I miss it.), and closings ("Thanks.") And you write in sensible paragraphs.

b) If you're a text person, you're not going anywhere near "Hi" or "Dear," but you might do an occasional "hey."

Suppose you email me: "Hi Paul, I just read your stupid, stupid tip. Cheers!" That sounds warmer than "hey stupid."

But the point is to adapt your style to the other person. If you send me an email with "Dear," I'll probably write "Dear" back. And if you skip the greeting, I'll do the same.

10) Edit, edit, edit.

Less beats more. Suppose you're creating an away message. How much detail do you provide?

Example: "I'm away from the office because last night, I dated a convicted felon—he'd just escaped!—and after an exciting, all-night car chase, we ended up in a Mexican prison. I'll be back in the office, assuming good behavior, in 5-10 years."

Ok, you're out. That's all we need to know.

© Copyright 2013 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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