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Guy Kawasaki & the art of the 5-sentence email

Ten Things to Learn This School Year

I'm intrigued by this bit of advice from Guy Kawasaki on the stuff you don't learn in school (but should):

How to write a five-sentence email...Whether UR young or old, the point is that the optimal length of an email message is five sentences. All you should do is explain who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by.

While exaggerated for effect, this strikes me as sound advice. And, in the context of a discussion about education, I'm reminded of the "hamburger essays" we used to have to write in school. Yeah, sure, there aren't many times in life where you have to sit down and write an actual 5-paragraph essay, but they sure did encourage you to think about structure, rhetoric, and arc. As ever, that bit of constraint gives you the focus needed to improve the quality of your presentation.

Man, in retrospect, I've sent a lot of emails that could and should have been whittled down to five sentences (if that). Emailarrhea.

Curtis's picture

One should know the "rules"...

One should know the "rules" so that one can break them with style. Beyond that, the petty "rules" like a five-sentence limit on e-mail are bogus. It's much more important to write coherently than concisely. If that means writing much more than a single five-sentence paragraph, then one should write more. Arbitrary limits are stupid.

I suspect that explaining "who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by" is going to take more than five sentences since the amount of text required merely to justify "why you should get it" is going to be inversely proportionate to how well composed and polite your request is in the first place. If I think you are being overly terse or rude, I am very unlikely to give you anything, am I?

As it composed, I have trouble taking the suggestion seriously. IM-speak, like Guy's "UR" instead of "you are", is a strong signal that the author didn't take any care about his writing. Why should I take any care in reading it or acting on it?

Oops! I went over the five-sentence limit! Shock! Horror! Mayhem!




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