E-mails are a staple of office communication, but they can also be a source of tremendous frustration. Most workers have probably had the experience of taking the time to craft an e-mail but still having to answer questions that had already been answered in said e-mail.
On the other hand, many workers also probably audibly sigh when they receive a long, detailed e-mail they now have to read through.
Part of the frustration in each case is how the e-mail is written.
Long E-Eails Lose Attention
Long e-mails are particularly tricky because people tend to quickly lose interest. According to one study, the average time a recipient spends reading an e-mail in 2018 was just 13.4 seconds, and that was up from 11.1 seconds in 2016. Even as e-mail attention spans increase somewhat, a few seconds is obviously not enough time to digest large amounts of information.
Therefore, given recipients’ limited attention spans, many experts advocate for simply cutting down the length of e-mails.
Making Email Missives Shorter
In an article for Forbes, Rob Ashgar goes so far as to suggest keeping e-mails to two sentences to ensure they’re read fully. Others suggest replacing long e-mails with phone calls or meetings, but this creates other issues—too many meetings and difficulty remembering the information relayed orally, to name just two.
The challenge of how to convey important information to a busy audience is far from a novel task. Newspaper writers have been faced with this objective for hundreds of years, and journalism students know the importance of the “lede.”
The Use of the Lede
The lede—intentionally misspelled to avoid confusion with “lead”—is the introduction to a news story. The lede conveys the most important information at the top of the piece; if readers read nothing beyond the lede, they should still have a decent understanding of the piece’s basic points: who, what, where, when, and why.
The same concept can apply to e-mail communication. When writing an e-mail, be careful not to “bury the lede.” Start with the most important information first, and write as though the first sentence is all that will be read because, in many instances, that’s going to be the case.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.