Stop sending insanely long emails -- no one reads them.

I used to be that guy.

Every week I would send a weekly update to my writers. It was long. Lots of words. About stats and site news and work necessary for the week and all sorts of fun details that I found super cool and amazing and wanted to share with everyone and...

No one read it.

In fact, when I would run into writers and photographers at shows, I'd ask them why they didn't jump on some of the show opportunities or album reviews I had in the queue and they simply said Oh, I don't read those things. Why?! Free concerts!? Free music?! Because they are too long.


And so I did what any normal person would do: I took it way personally. But I couldn't just start firing people and raising hell and punching things like I normally would, because these are just brutally honest professional associates. And I'm a freaking professional. So I did what a professional would do: took the advice and reflected.

So I read the first emails I sent. And they started out short because we weren't a big group yet. But as we grew, both in company size and in popularity, my emails grew. Into enormous sizes. Monstrous. Gigantic. Nary novella. Where did I find the time to write all those stupid words?

I was just excited. It was "word vomit". You know: when you just start typing all the words that pop into your mind and it just starts flowing from your fingers at some whirlwind pace. I felt the energy I had when I read those emails. But it would have totally bored someone less interested -- and that was the entire company. I was excited because this was my baby. Everyone else just worked there. It was cool, but that's all. It wasn't magical. Nor were those emails.

Flash forward to now. Academics are some times the worst perpetrators of the long email. Like my previous self, they believe they are typing magic but it's really just word vomit.

So I made some rules for myself for emailing:

  1. Can I say what I want in three sentences?
  2. Can the person I send this to read everything without scrolling (phone or on the computer)?

Three sentences or less

This is a basic tenant of communication on any level. Present an "issue". Offer a solution. Incorporate an alternative or open the floor to discussion. Those are the three sentences -- at most. This works on a lot of different levels:

The Data Email

Hey, I have the data analyzed. Attached is a summary of the data. If you want to meet and discuss it, I'm available after 3.

Things people put into their Data Emails that make them longer

  • A story about how long it took to do the data
  • A non-attached version of the data, where each datum reported has some sort of explanation
  • A story of each datum
  • Things you would much rather have said in person but felt the urge to communicate through email because of enthusiasm (or anger -- data emails are either happy or infuriating emails)

No one cares about your data story. I really don't care about how many Red Bull's it took you before your infinite night was over.

Also, don't add crazy important shit into the body of your long email. That's like hiding a precious pebble in a rock quarry. Why would you do that? It's just going to get lost in a sea of longemailwords.

The Meeting Email

Hi everyone, I would like to set up a meeting for next week to discuss [important thing]. Please fill out the Doodle poll (link below). For those who can't make it, let me know and we can meet individually. 

Things people put into The Meeting Email that make them longer

  • A detailed description of Important Thing
  • An explanation of some sort of scheduling conflict
  • The lack of using Doodle or something similar to Doodle to schedule

The meeting is to discuss Important Thing. I don't need to have a pre-summary of Important Thing before the meeting because that would just defeat the purpose of the meeting.

Again, story telling in professional emails -- not necessary. NOT. NECESSARY.

Using website services like Doodle can save many many words when scheduling a meeting. We'll get to email chains in a second.

Scrolling emails -- never get read.

We live in a very convenient world of communication. Think of the things that are popular in terms of communicating: texting, Facebook messages, Snapchat, Twitter. All these things generally have short communication intervals. You can convey a lot of information in a very small amount of space.

Emails are not the "long form" of communicating online. They can be when appropriate. And that is generally rare. For the majority of my email correspondences, if I have to scroll it's either: 1) extremely important or 2) something unnecessarily long.


Even if a message that took up ~20 lines would look intimidating. I'm thinking something like... 5 lines or less. That will get read as I walk from class to class, or meeting to meeting.

Pictures in the body of emails may require scrolling. And that's fine. But generally, if you're sending me a picture then I'm assuming it's either important or extremely cool.

But what do I do if I can't say it in three sentences and/or it's a scrollable length?!

Then set up a meeting. A face-to-face (may it be via the internet or in-person) meeting. Come prepared. Write that insanely long email you wanted to write, but do it in a text document and title it "Notes for the meeting". Then read it again before the meeting and make sure you are hitting the point(s) you wanted to make in your email -- except verbally.

You'll notice two things with this approach: 1) the feedback is instantaneous. Because it is in person with the person you wanted to communicate with. No need to wait for a reply (if a reply were to happen), and 2) you will have discussed the point(s) you wanted to make much more quickly (and hopefully, more effectively) than you would have if you had sent a long email.

There are some circumstances where long emails are unavoidable: emergencies, rush situations, the only mode of communication... these are three that may have long email only implications.

Also, this is very anecdotal. I personally don't like long emails because I receive many emails a day and would like to address as many as possible. A single long email throws a wrench in that strategy.

Really, if you identify as a long email offender and want to change, think about adopting some concise email guidelines like I have.

3 thoughts on “Stop sending insanely long emails -- no one reads them.”

  1. Fabian Pettigrew says:

    only follow this douchebag's advice if you want to appear a douchebag in front of your colleagues. story-telling is a key technique used in email writing to appear friendly and welcoming to the reader. it is what nice people do.

    1. Nick Wan says:

      But no one reads your "friendly" emails. It is what busy people do.

    2. God says:

      Nobody cares about that in business. Efficient people don't write novel-length e-mails, and especially don't read them. Accept it.

Leave a Reply