Rands, on Elegant Email:
[Have] a three (or four) paragraph limit. I believe email is not a long form communication medium, and my rule of thumb is that an email should be no longer than three (or four) paragraphs. You might hate this stipulation.
Here’s the deal. I’m not suggesting the three-paragraph limit because I’m in a hurry. What I’m asking you to do is think. I’ve made it past your subject line — super. Now, I’m staring at 14 paragraphs regarding whether we should or should not open a new office in Berlin. My unfortunate knee-jerk reaction to 14 paragraphs is to flag the message for later reading. Flagging a message for later reading creates the same fake sense of accomplishment as putting an item on a to-do list — you give yourself permission to never think about it again.
Our Berlin office is a big decision and every single one of your 14 paragraphs demonstrates this importance, but are we really going to make a decision of this magnitude via email? No. There’s great content in your Berlin office opus, but I’m going to have lots of questions for which you are going to ask for clarification, and suddenly we’re in the middle of a lengthy email thread and my question is, Wouldn’t this have been easier if we had just sat down and had it out face to face? …
With each paragraph you write, double the amount of time you spend editing. It’s not just grammar and spelling errors that might be hurting your credibility. Is your point clear, literate, and concise? Have you pruned aggressively to find the core of what you’re saying? With each additional paragraph, the higher the chance becomes that you’ve made an egregious mistake that might make your email confusing and forgettable.
If your instinct is hit to sent “Send” without any editing, my thought is that you’re more interested in therapy than progress. This thing you are writing is important or we wouldn’t be here, but by choosing to send this thing to others, the burden of clarity and coherence is on you.