The Short Answer…
As long as you need to communicate clearly and succinctly. For most this is only a couple of paragraphs.
The Longer Answer…
Many times picking up the phone and discussing the issues at hand is much more efficient and effective than typing endless commentary that may not get to the heart of topic or actually create more questions than provide answers.
It is a rare talented communicator that can hold a reader’s attention and write effective long emails. Email is communicating with the written word after all! This is a skill I work at daily (and I hope you are too).
Many times emails that are too long do not hold the reader’s attention causing them to scan for the details or answers they seek. And by doing so, possibly missing important details.
I have even caught myself doing this when pressed for time and a long email with huge paragraphs arrives in my inbox. This is where brevity and white-space are your friend!
Email Composition Tips
Here are some quick tips to keep in mind for those, the majority, that scan:
- A handful of paragraphs at most.
- 2-3 sentences per paragraph.
- No more than 15 words per sentence.
- Use bulleted lists for brief points.
Keeping your replies to the point is where down-editing comes into play. Removing what doesn’t apply and only commenting directly to what does, minimizes confusion and allows the email to remain focused.
Use bullet points to get your thoughts across is a short, sweet and concise manner. Don’t worry about having to know code to created bulleted points, do what I do — use “=>” before each point. Then hit enter twice after each point to space things out and provide some white space.
The key is to think about what you want to accomplish with your email and stay on target. In most cases if your email goes on longer than a handful of paragraphs it may be best to consider another alternative.
For example, what I do when a client needs a lot of information from me, I’ll include links to the areas on my site that cover the info they seek rather than repeating it in an email. Or I’ll create a PDF and have a short and to the point email noting what the attached document contains.
A recent study has reflected that email can cause a decrease in productivity by up to 40%! Working to keep your emails short, brief and concise helps both sides to be more efficient and spend less time emailing!