Like me, I’m sure you are overwhelmed with too many email messages. In a large law firm, we get urgent, breaking-news kind of emails daily like “Does anyone know a good lawyer experienced in riparian rights in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania?” or “Does anyone have the Pensky file in their office?” So, I’m use to deleting lots of messages that I wish I had never received and always look for good email usage tips to pass along.

Now, from 43Folders, Merlin Mann’s blog about personal productivity, I found some added tips on writing sensible email messages that I’ll try to incorporate into my own writing.

Merlin writes, first: Understand why you’re writing. Before you type anything into a new message, have explicit answers for two questions:

Why am I writing this?

What exactly do I want the result of this message to be?

If you can’t succinctly state these answers, you might want to hold off on sending your message until you can. One commenter says you have to write like your recipient has a severe attention-deficit disorder.

Second, write a great Subject line. You can make it even easier for your recipient to immediately understand why you’ve sent them an email and to quickly determine what kind of response or action it requires. Merlin recommends that you avoid “Hi,” “One more thing…,” or “FYI,” in favor of typing a short summary of the most important points in the message:

  • Lunch resched to Friday @ 1pm;
  • Reminder: Monday is “St. Bono’s Day”–no meeting;
  • REQ: Resend McGiver zip file? ;
  • HELP: Can you defrag my C drive
  • Thanks for the new liver–works great!
  • In fact, consider using just the subject line to relate your message and identify it as such by adding (EOM)—for end of message—at the end of the Subject line. This lets recipients see that the whole message is right there in the subject without clicking to the view the (non-existent) body.

    Acronyms that may be useful shorthand in subjects:

    1. EOM End Of Message;
    2. RR Response required;
    3. AR Action Required;
    4. ATTACH Contains attachment;
    5. PERS Personal;
    6. CONT Continued;
    7. 411 For Information Only;
    8. MSR Monthly Status Report;
    9. MEET Meeting; and
    10. MINUTES Message contains minutes of meeting.

    Finally, make use of the different fields for TO|CC|BCC. Those in the TO field are required to do something (Action) and those in the CC field should NOT do anything (if needed, under separate cover). For an FYI, as no reply is required, all can go in the cc: field. And to avoid reply-to-all brawls, put all recipients in the BCC field.

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