Business email etiquette checklist

“All first drafts are terrible. I don’t care if you’re Hemingway.”

That comes from a writing professor who may as well have been talking about email. No email should be sent without revision.

Here’s an email etiquette revision checklist to follow:

Delete redundancies.
If you’re repetitive, the reader will start skimming.

Use numbers and specifics
instead of adverbs and adjectives. Example: Replace: “The project is currently way behind schedule” with “The project is three weeks late delivering the widgets to Seattle.” Add missing context. Does your reader know that getting the widgets to Seattle is necessary for the company to collect $100,000? If he doesn’t, fill him in.

Focus on the strongest argument. You can probably think of several reasons why it’s important for the widgets to get to Seattle. But one of those reasons will be enough to motivate your reader, so talk about that one.

Delete anything off-topic.
The best emails say one thing clearly. Having only one topic also makes it easier for the recipient to file the message in her email folders later.

Kill your favorites. Is there a line in your message that seems clever or amusing? It probably isn’t, so delete it. What seems funny now could seem embarrassing later. Skip the drama. If you’ve written something in the heat of emotion, delete it.

Shorten. Someone trying to scan your message on a BlackBerry gets about 40 words per screen. It may look short on your computer, but it reads like an epic novel on her gadget.

Tip:
Highlight all the text and double the font size. Revise. At that size, the message will seem wordier and will be easier to trim. Then bring it back down to normal size.

Give it a day.
With time, the message may not seem as urgent. And one less email is something everyone will thank you for.

— Adapted from “How to Revise an Email So That People Will Read It,” David Silverman, Harvard Business blog.