Short Emails

I write short emails. Usually no more than five sentences, often fewer. The sentences tend to be truncated in their own right.

Sometimes people complain to me that I write short emails, and they don’t know what I am thinking. I don’t care, I keep them short.

Why write short emails?

Shakespeare once said, “brevity is the soul of wit.” For me, it’s the essence of sanity.

Conversely, Mark Twain said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” He must have had more time and patience than me.

Here are a few reasons why:


The first and most important reason for short emails is efficiency. The amount of emails I receive are insane (yes, I am not alone). Because I am an inbox zero guy, I do scan every email; however, I do not read them all, nor do I respond to a vast majority.

Responses tend to be short communications that expedite a project, acknowledge someone, or provide an answer. In essence, email is about workflow. I choose not to invest hours every day answering email.


This might surprise you, but some people read into emails too much. I know, who needs a soap opera? When you have short emails, it’s really hard to press the ignite button.

Make sure to say please and thank you. Most people realize you’re not being short to be a jerk, you just wrote a brief email. And when you have two back and forths, pick up the phone or walk across the hall and talk to each other.


Then there is the forwarding factor. Frankly, we all know people forward emails. And we have all received these emails of angst.

Even last year I had a trusted business partner who forwarded my emails to his/her social media friends and staff, complaining about and analyzing the messages. Once I figured out that our correspondence was the source of backstabbing and reputation sabotage, trust dissolved.

I became very brief. With no fuel to add to the fire, a calmer (and much less frequent) correspondence developed. And yes, eventually I did end my business with said person.

I know several executives who request that recipients ask for permission to share email as part of their signature. You can see why. I’d rather be mindful about what I say, and assume that anything and everything might be forwarded.

That being said, sometimes a long email is necessary, and knowing when to do that is important. I don’t over think those emails, but clearly they require more thought than a simple workflow correspondence.

How do you approach email?

Featured image by Pascual Lopez.

NASA Tweets as the Shuttle Sunsets

by David Parmet

STS-129 Atlantis Launch (200911160007HQ) (explored)
Space Shuttle Atlantis Launch Image by NASA

Sometimes shorter is better. “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed” and its follow-up “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” manage to capture the moment, both for those of us old enough to remember the first Moon landing and for those who will follow us.

Both of these tightly worded statements share in common brevity and directness that still convey the larger historical drama. They are like Tweets from the pre-Internet era.

On top of whatever else is said about Twitter – that it’s a global conversation, that it breaks news and undercuts traditional avenues of information – it forces users to be as direct and concise as they can be. There’s no room for excess verbiage in a 140-character tweet.

More than any other public institution, NASA has embraced social media, both for itself as well as to bring the larger community of space enthusiasts and armchair astronauts into the conversation about space exploration.

Most importantly, especially for those of us who follow the various NASA Twitter feeds, a sense of the wonder of work and life in space comes through so much stronger in a Tweet than in a dry press release or official document. There are also more than 150 NASA-related Twitter accounts, everything from astronauts currently serving on the International Space Station (@astro_ron, @astro_aggie), on current Shuttle missions (@astro_ferg, @astro_doug), NASA administrators (@Lori_Garver) to current and historic missions (@MESSENGER2011, @NewHorizons2015, @marsphoenix, @voyager2).

Every day, thousands of followers see Astronaut Ron Garan’s photos taken from the International Space Station. Others follow the progress of the New Horizon probe on its way to Pluto. One of the most widely re-tweeted Tweets was the Mars Phoenix’s announcement that it had discovered evidence of water on Mars. A complete list of NASA social media accounts is at

NASA now holds regular tweet-ups (hashtag #NASATweetUp) at the Kennedy Space Center, at the agency headquarters in Washington and at its many research and development centers throughout the country. These tweet-ups are an important part of NASA’s outreach to the space community and the larger world.

More than 20 Tweetups have already been held since 2009. The next one is scheduled this week, July 8-9 at the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of Atlantis – the final launch of the Space Shuttle program.

The impact of a single NASATweetUp can be enormous in terms of educating the larger community on Twitter about NASA and its goals of space exploration. According to NASA – a single Tweetup event can generate 4,750+ tweets in three hours and 40 million impressions. The hundreds of participants in the tweetups that have already happened have more than 3 million combined followers. A private group on Facebook for the alumni of the various NASATweetUps has more than 400 members.

NASA is in the middle of a painful transition, with the Shuttle program ending and the future of manned spaceflight uncertain. Like many organizations in the same boat, it’s finding it more important than ever to keep its community close and informed and to use whatever means it can to tell its story. Twitter is obviously only one piece of the puzzle but it’s become the most visible one.

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David Parmet, a social media and public relations consultant, attended the NASATweetups for the final launches of the Orbiters Discovery and Endeavour but has still yet to see an actual launch. He’s holding out hopes for Atlantis in July.

Mobile Will Restore Brevity to Media

Motorola Xoom tablet

If social media endangered the 30 second spot, then mobile media will restore brevity to content creation. Smaller screens, less convenient input methods for text, the ability to create user generated visual media on the fly, and an evolving series of socially empowered mobile media will challenge content creators to serve a new reader. Long blog posts and articles are best read on computers and tablets, while short videos, photos and brief updates will be preferred on smartphones.

Time seems to be on mobile’s side. As 4G enters the marketplace, lightening fast wireless broadband will become an empowering technology. By 2014, mobile Internet use is expected to surpass desktop use. Consider that wireless empowered smartphones and tablets will continue to drive down the digital divide. Africa’s entire information infrastructure expects to leapfrog landline telecommunications and computers.

Serving this growing content market is not as easy as creating an app for that. As Pew research reveals, there is an app gap: “…almost half of U.S. adults get local news on mobile devices [47%], just 1 in 10 use apps to do so.” And it’s not like more folks don’t have smartphones. The app gap exists in spite of three in 10 Americans owning smartphones.

Mobile friendly web sites continue to be a critical component of success. That means rethinking content for multiple types of media will become more and more important. This is not something to sweep under the rug until a later date.

Media will need to become briefer, tighter, and should be built with the expectation of less feedback from users on mobile devices. What does brief content look like? Short videos under two minutes, microblogs with shorter content, pictures, applications, smart use of text messaging, all with an expectation that input beyond two or three sentences is too much for the average smartphone.

Going back to the Pew Research, of the above mobile news readers, 15% use Twitter vs. 4% of the news consumers. It’s no coincidence that twitter is a 140 character medium, one of the shortest media forms out there (and ideal for text message updates).

Consider the inner copywriter challenged to achieve brevity. Restoring the KISS principle, Keep It Simple… to content will be good after a period full of bells and whistles. After all, waxing poetic is the luxury of long form media. One screen’s worth of content. Can you get the job done in that short of an opportunity?