More Effective Emailing part I

When I get multiple paragraph or longer emails, with no bullet points, that have no pictures, that don’t start by telling me why I should read them, or what I need to do with, or who should read them I tend to delete them or mark them as read and not read them. Long emails, no matter how well written often times require that you read them with extreme diligence or take notes on them to figure what is being talked about, Once you figure out what is being talked about you then have to figure out an actionable item in the email that applies to you. As I delete these emails I almost feel bad for the person who put so much work and thought into writing the email. After I feel bad for them I want to walk over and smack them and teach them how to better write an email.

I am going to pick on a customer for this example of what not to do. The following is how not to send an email for help, or an email explaining something. You can skip over it if you need to, is simply an example

I went looking as AWStats again as you asked, and this is what I find. First, for bob.com , AWStats is recording traffic, in that the page count, hit count and bandwidth are all within normal ranges. What are missing are the “unique visitors” and “number of visitor” counts – the latter is running a fraction of what is should, and the former is locked at “1”.

The problem appears to be that all traffic to the site is being attributed to a user at address “10.10.10.1” – which is the inside address of the ISA Server. In general, I would say that ISA Server – being a proxy – is forwarding requests to the actual web server as expected, but the requests are rewritten as coming from ISA Server – effectively blinding the web server to the real identity of the requesting user. That is, all requests have become “anonymized”. This is essentially analogous to if a mail-forwarding service opened all your mail and stuffed the contents (but not the original envelopes) in a single large manila envelope and forwarded that to you every month: you would have no idea where each individual bill or letter was postmarked or what its postal return address was.

When AWStats crunches the web server log files, it then sees all requests as coming from this single originating entity (IP address “10.10.10.1”) and so it lumps them all together as a single “unique visitor” (IP). Since the “visits” counter is dependent on isolating visits by visitor and by time, it also is being skewed – essentially, all traffic on the site during a specific time period bounded by a certain minimum idle time is being accounted as a single “visit” even if the traffic really originated from several end-users.

I am forwarding this also to bob, in case he has some thoughts on how to resolve this. Perhaps there are logs within ISA Server that we can crunch instead, or perhaps there is a way to forward the originating end-user IP address to IIS (the web server) to be included in the log files. I am not too familiar with ISA server (at least not yet) so I cannot offer a better opinion or solution right now.

Now I am going to analyze this email and cover some of the issues I see in it:

  • Audience   This email is sent to a company owner who has little to no reason to want to know this much detail. He would have been happy with an email that said " I am still looking at AWSTATS, but I am having a few issues making it work correctly. I will check with Bob and see if he has more ideas. If you want more details about the issues simply ask" — Sending that email would have saved so much time and annoyance for everyone. When you write an email think not of what you want or what you might want to read, but think about what the audience might want to read, and how it might effect them. Try to write to the level of caring about, and comprehension of the audience. The owner of a company does not care about an IP address or email forwarding service example. They want to know what applies to them. in this case, can they see their reports yet, if not when can they, and what are you doing to fix it.
  • Purpose   Emails are generally sent to inform someone, ask someone to do something, or to obtain more information. If this email came into my inbox as is, I would have no clue what the purpose was. When writing an email you should always start off with the purpose to give the reader an idea of why they are reading it. Sometimes you can do that in the subject line, oftentimes more is needed. Personably I like to write the purpose in bold or italics or in some other font at the onset of the email. For this email I would have written something like this at the start "FYI about current AWSTATS progress –Still working on it -read more if you are interested"  With that simple line the reader can see why this email came to them, determine what they need to do about it, and finally determine if they should even read any further.
  • Write to the preview line   Writing to the preview line is a phrase that I learned while working at Microsoft that grew out of an older version of Outlook. This version displayed 1-3 lines of text from the start of an email along with the subject in the email explorer bar. Numerous people at Microsoft used / still use the preview line to read their emails; they often don’t read past the preview line. The teaching about the preview line went, if you want your manager to read something write it in 1 line so he will read it it in the preview, or entice him in the single line to make him read more. Otherwise you are wasting everyone’s time.
  • Who else gets it   When you place someone on the CC, TO, or BCC line of email you should think about why you are doing that and you should address that in the email. This email was sent to Bob, and the Owner, and it does not address why both got the email, or it is to. I like to extend the purpose to apply to all those who are getting the email. With this example, because it was sent to multiple people I would change the online that I used in the propose section to read like this ""Owner = FYI about current AWSTATS progress –Still working on itBOB =  I need help –read more if you are interested" I do my best to limit those who get an email, and to only call out at the start of the email those people who the email most applies too. For more I find it annoying if more then three people are called out at the start of an email. If you have that many to call out change the email to start with "task assignments listed by name, please read your tasks" or something like that.
  • Break up the information   Break up the information to make it simpler to read, this goes for all writing. If you are listing things break them into a bulleted list. If things are more important call them out by making the text bold, italic or a different colour. Start with a simple explanation and then add more. Readers limited on time will scan a document. If they can quickly see what a paragraph or document is about in the first sentence they can skip the rest. Bullet points make it very effective, especially if you start with a a few key words that describe the bullet like I have this email.
  • Consider time   Consider how long it will take someone to read and react to your email, how long it will take you to write it, and then determine if there is an ROI in that time. Everyone is busy, and looking for more time. Do your best to respect that and help them manage their time by not dumping a long email on someone that took you time to write, that will suck up there time, and not benefit anyone; that is plain rude and disrespectful.

What I am basically saying is keep it short, to the point, tell people right off the bat what you want from them, and why they should read your email. The following is an example of how I would have written this email:

Owner = FYI about AWSTATS progress –Still working on it
Bob =
ISA is effecting how AWSTATS works – I need your help to fix it

For more details read the following:

ISA has anonymized the connections the webservers (all connections come from ISA now and not the end browser) rendering the AWSTATS data useless. I wonder if ISA has a different way to deal with is, or if there is a better way to populate the AWSTATS? Maybe change the logging type on the ISA server to W3C format and letting AWSTATS work with that data? Bob, I would appreciate any help you could give me on this, I cannot finish this task without your help. I can supply more information if you need it.

Which of the two examples is simpler to read or for that matter has a better chance of being read? Think about this when you write emails, people will like you more if you write towards the second example and try to avoid the first example.

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