Developed by TED’s Chris Anderson and Jane Wulf, the Email Charter is a manifesto for digital humanity, for spending less time on email, and for cutting each other some slack.
Respect Recipients’ Time
Make your email easy to read: use these plain English tips to save others time AND make your communication more effective.
Short or Slow Responses are Not Rude
It’s ok to be brief. Don’t take brevity personally and know that others won’t. Wordy responses take longer to read. People will scan it and are less likely to read it all; key details can be easily missed.
Make Subject Lines and Content Clearer
Start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic. Try including a status category [Info], [Action], [Time Sens] [Low Priority]. Use crisp, muddle-free sentences. If the email has to be longer than five sentences, make sure the first provides the basic reason for writing. Avoid strange fonts and colours.
Stop Open-Ended Questions
It is asking a lot to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by “Thoughts?”. Even well-intended-but-open questions like “How can I help?” may not be that helpful. Email generosity requires simplifying easy-to-answer questions. “Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!”
Slash Surplus cc’s
Only CC someone who really needs this message. Don’t thoughtlessly ‘Reply all’: choose individual recipients.
Tighten the Thread
If you need to include the email trail showing the context, cut what’s not relevant. If it’s long, summarise or make a phone call instead.
Don’t use graphics files as logos, or signatures that appear as attachments. Time is wasted trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could have been included in the body of the email.
Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR
If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient having to actually open the message. Ending a note with “No need to respond” or NNTR, is a wonderful act of generosity. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption.
Cut Contentless Responses
You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” does not need you to reply “Great.” That just cost someone another 30 seconds.
Should we expect an instant response?
Don’t feel you need to give an instant response, and don’t expect to get one. Skype or the telephone are your tools if something is urgent.
If we all agree to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email. Consider blocking out half-days at work where you don’t go online. Or make a commitment to email-free weekends. Add an auto-responder in your off time that references this charter. And don’t forget to smell the roses.
An additional thought
Not included in the official email charter, but I think a good idea is to put a TL/DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) synopsis at the very top of any long email, so that anyone who needs to know what is in your email but doesn’t have time to read it all can get the important part of it in a short sentence or two.