Skip to content

Email Context Audit (Business Writing Exercise)

Business Writing Exercise

Business Writing Exercise

I talked last week about the importance of writing good introductions to establish context (especially for readability down the line), and that message is never more important (or overlooked) than when you’re sitting down to write an email.

We still occasionally run into the big formal business letters and memos on company letterhead, and so we’re in the habit of thinking of emails, by contrast, as casual communication. It’s certainly less work to put together an email, but as a direct result of that most of our official written communication these days takes place in the form of emails.

Sure, adding a lot of formal structure to emails would make them just as much of a nuisance as memos and business letters, but at the opposite extreme, leaving out information in the name of convenience will ultimately cause problems.

So your exercise for this week is an email context audit. Open up your email client (personal or work, whichever you prefer), and look at the last ten non-reply emails you sent — that is, new emails starting new conversations. Copy out the opening paragraph of each email, and add it to a list, then read over all the items in the list and see how easy it is for you to tell what each email message is talking about. Chances are good you still remember each of those emails, so try to guess how well you’d be able to figure the meaning out a year from now, too.

Then test yourself. Go back one year, and list the opening paragraphs of ten non-reply emails you sent on this date last year. How many of them make sense to you now?

This is an audit, a self-evaluation, and there’s a real possibility you’ll come out of it with a perfect score. If you don’t, if you find in your archives a bunch of unintelligible one-line emails or messages that start in the middle of a conversation, take some time to practice improvement. Revisit your ten newer messages, and try writing a short, clear introduction for each of them. Save them as a reminder, or (as long as they don’t contain any sensitive business secrets), share them on our discussion board. If you don’t need to improve your introductions, feel free to make a post and brag about that, too.

2 Responses to “Email Context Audit (Business Writing Exercise)”

  1. Courtney says:

    Bragging! Even in the year-ago emails, I had the context and content pinned by the end of the first line. I rock at email-writing. Go me. Woot, and all that jazz. ;oD

  2. Aaron Pogue says:

    Very well, you’ve proven your worth. This writing exercise was actually a test, and you’ve passed. I hereby invite you to be a regular contributor to the blog.

    (None of that is true. Courtney and I have been in talks to make that happen since before this blog had a name. Even so, this makes for a good solid resume, don’t you think?)