Be a little better at personal email

The next bunch of posts will be me "clearing out the drawers" of notes I have scattered across my phone, computer, and brain. There is no unifying theme to what will be written here.

Three recommendations to email better

TL;DR Email should usually be as short as possible. More of a text message than a letter. If an email isn't going to be one line (like a text) make it easy to skim, by using many line breaks.

If you need input from someone else to proceed, present a list of their options, and say "unless I hear otherwise, I'll do {option}." (source: unlessiheardifferently.com)

The Longer Version, AKA Don't read this paragraph

I had a discussion with a friend a few months ago about "rules for email", or "email best practices". These "best practices" are all generally in the context of 1:1 email, or at most, one email to a small group. We all send and receive emails, and it may seem like it doesn't matter if you write good email. I used to think it didn't matter. Then I started emailing around when I was trying to get a job. Then I realized my email skills were EXACTLY what got me to a first interview at a company, or got a "thanks for your inquiry, but no thanks", or no reply at all. A short email I sent is exactly why I have the job I have today. I'll include some screenshots of early emails I sent in a later message. They are horrendous, extremely long tomes. I'd never send anything like that to a stranger these days. BUT! They were not complete wastes. I was trying to demonstrate my ability to deliver value to the person I was emailing, in regards to the job I wanted to do. This is a good goal to have, I just executed it poorly. Good email respects the reader, even if it is entirely devoid of pleasantries and flowery language. It is short and concise because important and busy people have a lot to do, and you want a sliver of their attention. A long email causes them to skip your email.

You didn't even try to read that last paragraph, did you?

I sure wouldn't have. Walls of text are terrible.

Here's the same paragraph, but with line breaks and unnecessary words removed:

I had a discussion with a friend a few months ago about "rules for email", or "best practices for emails between individuals".
I never thought about my own email etiquette until I started emailing around when I was trying to get a job a few years ago. My email skills (or lack thereof) were EXACTLY what got me to a an interview at a company, or got a "thanks for your inquiry, but no thanks", or no reply at all.
My job today at Litmus is a direct result of a short email I sent, but I would have never gotten the job if I'd ignored the following "rules of email".
Good email respects the reader, even if it is entirely devoid of pleasantries and flowery language. A long email causes them to skip your message.

Does that look a little better? Maybe you actually read it, huh?

Here's the best list of rules I can think of. Some of this applies more to emailing a peer, some of it fits more for emailing a "Very Important Person".

Rule 1: Be concise

Relentlessly strip away words, sentences, and paragraphs that are not critical. If you can't decide if it matters or not, it doesn't matter.

Rule 2: Respect the time and attention of the reader.

This can be done by:
Doing your research before emailing them. Have a question? Show that you've tried to find the answer on your own.

Lead with the most important part of the email, provide additional context below. (This is known as a TL;DR, or "Too Long; Didn't Read)

Create information hierarchy. Bold the important parts, assume the rest will be skimmed at best.

Make it easy for them to give a one-word answer, or at most, a one-sentence answer. It's hard to write a question like this, but it's putting the burden on the person you're emailing to do it any other way.

Here's an example of a poorly phrased question (Imagine you're emailing a sponsored athlete, trying to learn how to become sponsored like them.)

Hey {athlete}, I'm trying to come up with same ways to get a sponsorship from {company}, and it seems like you've figured this out. What would you recommend I do?

How would you even begin to respond to this question? If I were the athlete, I'd be annoyed that they didn't just google it.

Here's a much better way to ask the same question:

Hi {athlete},
I've been following you for a while, and have been impressed with how you've done {thing1} and {thing2}.
It looks like your path to sponsorship started with {beginning}, then on your blog 2 years ago {link_to_post}, you said you started sponsorship with {desired company}. I'm working towards a similar arrangement, and have a few options to proceed.
Which of the following makes the most sense to you?
Option 1: Focus on growing my social media followers, while tagging the brands I want to get the attention by.
Option 2: Ignore social media for now, and focus on building relationships within the companies by attending trade shows, writing posts for their blog, etc.
Option 3: {some third option that you've discovered in your quest for a good answer}

Even if none of the options are what the person recommends, he or she will probably say something like "A mix of option 1 and 3, but make sure you do {thing}."

When you've implemented their advice, you can reach out and tell them what you've done. They'll be thrilled to see that they helped you.

Rule 3: Write short sentences, and short paragraphs.

The enter key is your best friend.

When is the last time you were reading something, and were annoyed by all the white space?

Probably never.

Look, that was a two-word paragraph.

I'm breaking every. single. rule. of. writing. (At least, according to what I was taught in school.)

But only the person who bothered reading this far sees this, and you're probably not annoyed, huh?

Further reading:

PS I'm aware that I broke many of my own rules in this very write-up. :(