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.


  • Email is the tool I love to hate. I strive for brevity as well most times, and I too am an inbox zero kind of gal. I find I can sometimes explain myself better in writing than by speaking, so often when I’m giving explicit instructions or direction to a team member or client I’ll use a bit longer email to explain everything in detail. That way they can go back to refer to it later on if they need to and I don’t get those “I forgot about that part” responses at the 11th hour.

    That said, I think some people rely on email too much, when a phone call or even a tweet will do. Setting up meetings for example. My pet peeve is when people email me to initiate a meeting but provide no suggested dates, times or locations. They leave the ball in my court. “Where and when would you like to meet?” drives me nuts when the other person is initiating the meeting!

    My final pet peeve is not replying all when copied on an email that is clearly addressed to a group. If I reference myself and my business partner IN the email, hit reply all when you respond, for Pete’s Sake!

    Honest, I really do love brevity! LOL

    • Yeah, email tends to turn into a cluster quickly. I probably spend an hour a day on it, and that’s too much. I work on site for a client, and frequently, I just get up and go talk to people because the emailing often lends itself to inaction and lacks workflow. It’s easier to just say it in one minute rather than the paper trail.

      Meeting requests are a bloody nightmare. I don’t even want to get into the time suck of meetings in this post. I’ll sum it up by using this phrase, “time suck.” Enough said.

      Thank you for continuing to read and support this blog, Suze. You rock!

  • People yell at you about emails being too short? You know some *weird* people! :)

  • Agree, shorter is usually (not always) better, and many tend to add words that don’t add value (often the same people that do that with their mouths). Of course, there need to enough content to provide clarity…on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen some so brief they can’t be understood, but that’s usually from laziness or not thinking enough.

    • I agree. Soemtimes the short emails are too vague, and I get caught on that. It’s usually a lack of though or moving too quickly.

  • Interesting conundrum. I’m leaning more toward shorter emails these days but mostly because nobody reads them anyway. I have always been “an explainer”. I want to make sure I give people all the details and plenty of information so they can’t possibly have anything to wonder about afterwards.

    I can’t say I’ve had problems with weird responses but usually I get no response and that’s just as bad. Sometime later someone will complain that I never got back to them about something and I’ll say… “It was in my last email…” But it was three sentences in so it might as well not have existed.

    These days I cut out as much as humanly possible except for the one point or answer I need to make and then I let the recipient worry about their own questions. If they have any, they’ll email!

    • LOL, indeed, TMI turns into an eye popper when you are on the receiving end. I also find froma work perspective it lends to input and manangement that you may not welcome.

  • The length typically is determined by the recipient and the subject matter; however, the length tends to shorten when I’m having to be firm or I’m ensuring the impossibility of misunderstanding. It’s rare that I send one-sentence emails, but sometimes they’re a necessity.

  • I err on the side of over-communication, so a lot of my emails can be bulleted lists. I always like to get all of the talking points in the email prior to any meetings.

    Then I discovered that people were tuning out on the long emails. Kind of annoying for an “attention to detail” guy…because folks would still come to the meeting unprepared. I get the brevity thing, but I’m still working on adapting to it.

  • Most text correspondence from me is short. Time is too important and if I really need to speak with you than I prefer a telephone call.

  • How did your use of Twitter change your mindset on composing short emails? Did it play a part @geofflivingston:disqus?

  • Why take 10 words to say what you could in 5? Do more and bigger words make you smarter, more powerful, more handsome? I’d like to know.

  • Bullet points! Numbered Lists! Helps make emails eminently skimmable and people replying can address specific points easily and/or reply inline (I’m a bit old school that way – I like a bit of inline replying when we’re talking specific details)

  • People are always complaining about my emails being short in in fact my signature from my mobile devices kindly asks to forgive brevity and typos. They still complain. We live in a society where everyone expects very low cost for services and very high time consumption energy being spent into their needs/emails/demands. However I have been taught to keep it short because it can always be seen by a judge if anything goes awry. Then you have the forwarding factor. These are normally the older generation who want the long books written to them via email However the less I say the less likely 1. I get myself in trouble 2. The less can be used against me 3. the is business not day care or entertainment, I am not here to give lectures via email. I have things to do!

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