Last week, I posted a poll asking if you prefer long, detailed emails or short, easy-to-read ones. As you would expect, the results were widely varied, with only one more person preferring to receive long, detailed emails over more concise ones.

email envelope

What does this mean? First of all, everyone reads and absorbs information differently, so it makes sense that we all prefer to receive different types of emails.

In essence, you should write with the recipient’s preferences in mind. When you tailor messages for them, they will understand your messages more quickly and, therefore, are more likely to act on them and contribute more effectively.

The first step in doing this is learning your audience, or learning what kind of email they like receiving. If you communicate with certain people people regularly via email simply ask them what’s most convenient for them — a thorough description of all information or simply the “gist” of the project?

When you receive feedback from your colleagues, keep a running list of their preferences. For example, I keep a small note on my computer’s dashboard with clients and co-workers’ preferences, such as:

  • Katherine — Big picture only
  • Jay — Bullet points of all information
  • Meg — Detailed description of all aspects of project
  • Max — Big picture only; set up time to talk on phone to discuss more in-depth information

When I start an email, I simply check to see if the recipient’s name is on the list. If it is, I tailor my message to them accordingly. If not, I write a clear message that accommodates all preferences and, if I know I’ll be communicating via email frequently, I ask them what kind of emails they prefer to receive in the “P.S.”

This may seem like lots of work at first, but by writing emails the way that they prefer to read them shows tremendous consideration and respect for their time. Not only that, it helps get things done faster.

Look out for Part 2 of “Long or Short Emails?” where I share how to write an email that accommodates all preferences — a skill that will help you get things done more quickly when collaborating with lots of people, all of whom read email differently.

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