I’ve been a member of the five-sentence club for about a year now. Anyone can become a member, but staying in? Well, that’s much harder. To remain eligible, you can’t send an email longer than five sentences.
As you can imagine, being in the club requires a lot of work. But it’s worth it: The first month I joined, my response rate tripled. Plus, my recipients’ average response time plunged by an entire day.
I like how straightforward the five-sentence rule is, but you can reap the same benefits simply by writing less. These three strategies will turn you into a master of short emails.
1) Slim Down Your Sentences
Most sentences are far more fluff than substance. Take this excerpt from an email I got yesterday:
I got your contact information because I’m looking to connect with remote workers as I am one myself. I’ve built a great app that allows you to keep headphones on while working with colleagues and I just want to get it into the hands of people that want to use it.
Reading this made my head spin. What if he’d instead written:
I’m a fellow remote worker, and I’ve built an app that lets you keep your headphones on while working with coworkers.
Much better, right?
If you need some practice cutting out superfluous words, great news — Write On Par is a fun, quick game that helps you turn rambling sentences into short, tight ones. Play for five minutes every day to hone your writing skills.
2) Make Every Line Count
Once you’ve shortened the length of your sentences, it’s time to cut altogether the unnecessary ones. When I’m trying to whittle down an email to five lines, I go through each one and ask, “Does this add value to my recipient’s life?” If not, I cut it.
To give you an idea, here’s the first draft of a follow-up email:
This email isn’t horrible, but there are a couple generic phrases that don’t add value to David’s life: Specifically, “I hope your week is going well,” “It was great meeting you,” and “In any case, thanks again for the insights!”
Here’s the email without these phrases:
As you can see, focusing on value naturally leads to shorter emails.
3) Focus on the Goal
Are your emails still too long? You’re probably trying to accomplish too many things in one message.
For example, I got a four-paragraph email last week that included four questions, three “quick clarifications,” and a lot of unnecessary context. I’ll be honest: I still haven’t responded.
To avoid this mistake, first identify the primary reason you’re sending the email.
That could be requesting or confirming a meeting, asking or answering a question, sharing an article or report — you get the drift.
Once you’ve figured out your goal, return to your message and delete everything that doesn’t forward that goal.
If you’re confirming a meeting with your boss, for instance, cut the question about next week’s presentation. (You could always send a separate email, or ask her in person.) Or if you’re sending the prospect some price and feature information, delete the links to several blog posts they “might be interested in.”
Short messages show respect — after all, you’re telling the other person that you know their time is valuable. So, if you want better relationships and better response rates, join the (five-sentence) club.