In my quest to model good reading behavior, I often check out books to peruse while my kids read. Recently I picked up Send: Why People Email so Badly and How to Do It Better. I admit I was wondering what a book could teach me about e-mail, but it turned out to be very useful.  For starters, I can articulate what bothers me about a poorly crafted e-mail.

This book lays out things that many of us learned through mistakes. For instance, while it is ok to mention details of your recent rubber-ducky induced plumbing disaster to your close colleague, if that same information is forwarded to your Dean, it feels embarrassing.

The book also provides clear guidance on some trickier things – like when to ‘BCC’ someone and why to ‘CC’  someone rather than including him/her in the ‘To’ box. (Hint: if you don’t need a reply, the CC box is appropriate.)

It also includes some nice tips for getting what you want out of e-mails, especially how to break up long e-mails and provide the reader with clear action steps for responding.  (Hint: Include bulleted action steps early with a date for response.) This information is critical in an age when we often ask people for favors online and need a prompt response to keep a grant or publication moving forward.

Other tips I found helpful was clear subject lines with keywords to allow for later searching, as well as updating the subject line when the conversation switches to a new topic.  We have all had the experience of trying to find an e-mail months later, and these simple steps can retrieve items quickly using the search function.

As someone who thinks a well-crafted e-mail could be used to save an hour-long meeting, this book is a must read for a more productive day and a functional outbox.  The book has short chapters and several nice tables to break up the text and summarize key points.  By the end, you’ll be primed to update subject headings frequently and craft tightly-worded, functional e-mails that will be safe when forwarded along to the rest of the universe.

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1 Comment
Harris Bland says:

This is a valuable discussion that doesn’t appear that it will lose its relevance anytime soon. One pet peeve, for me, is the email user who communicates via email as though email is an instant messaging system or similar to texting. I prefer a quick face-to-face chat, phone call, instant message, or smoke signal.

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