To terse or not to terse

I woke this morning thinking about work emails.

I emailed my lawyer and my therapist this morning.

When I write a work-related email to a client or a vendor or some professional I’m contracting for services, I tend to take a lesson from my experiences when I owned a computer consulting firm back in Tampa. Back then, I strongly, strongly preferred clients who sent me terse emails that got straight to the point in the first two sentences to meandering emails that took three paragraphs to get to the point, because the time I spent reading an email was time I wasn’t making money.

So for example, I really appreciated a client who sent me an email saying something like “We’re adding three new workstations to our network, but the network switch is out of ports, so we’d like you to come in and see about installing a larger switch and maybe get costs to upgrade to a faster network.” One sentence, spells out exactly what they need, boom, done.

I worked for a time as a print liaison for a small company that developed training manuals for businesses; they hired me to act as the go-between with printers and shipping companies, primarily, because at the time I already had a working relationship with most of the printers in the area.

I cc’d the business owner on all my emails with print shops and shipping companies. I remember a phone conversation with her one day where she complained about the brevity of my emails—she believed, strongly, that the emails should be longer, with introductory paragraphs like we really appreciate the work you did for us on the last print job and we’re looking forward to working with you again.” Where I would send a print shop an RFQ that might be two, maybe three paragraphs long, she preferred emails that were eight or ten.

I did it hr way, of course, because she was the client, but since I happened to be thinking about it, I’m curious. For those of you who communicate by email for professional or work-related reasons, what are your preferences?

4 thoughts on “To terse or not to terse

  1. I am currently serving in an office job in the army, and for the three-ish years I’ve been doing these jobs I’ve both sent and recieved almost exclusively terse, straight-to-the-point emails.
    I need to get through dozens of emails a day, if each one took me an extra three minutes, it would be a massive waste of time.
    Though I also have a tendancy to text, and even talk, in this manner, rarely engaging in ‘small talk’.

  2. Since my ‘Job’ these days is writing trashy fiction, it depends on who the recipient is and why I’m contacting them. I’m with you; I prefer a quick and dirty email describing what I want or what I’m offering the other person, yet I know that it may come across as abrupt and cold.
    So, I spend a little time initially being friendly while professional, then see how they come back and adjust accordingly.

  3. For work, specifically, short and to the point.
    I appreciate a brief intro sentence to point me to the specific job, but as little as “On the VacCat – Conveyor system you’re doing for line SP2 …” because without that it takes a minute to cross reference who the email is from with which job they’re talking about.

    It might be better to say that I prefer terse, but don’t assume you’re my only client.

  4. Interesting question!
    As a teacher, my email life is split in two.
    There are the mails from the administration and directors – and of course those I send, either as the initiator or in response. I like the messages here to be written in friendly terms, but not overly so: one line of “Dear all/Dear John/Dear Jane”, a body that goes legibly straight to the point, and a “see you soon” or something to that effect, plus the sig.
    With students, it’s even more important to get straight to the point, and I wish they did so more often. I tend to really re-read before sending, trying to imagine myself in their shoes, and asking myself repeatedly if it’s clear enough.
    The few mails I send outside that rather limited scope are usually more terse than otherwise, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.