In January 2009, I made the transition back to being a senior DBA. One of the first things my manager pointed out to me was that I needed to improve my email writing. His main beefs:
- I took too long getting to my point.
- I sometimes forgot about the target audience.
- I was wordy.
He noted the good things, too. For instance, in emails that had to detail a technical issue, the details were accurate and complete. But the majority of emails weren't of this nature. Here are some things I've adopted, after reading a lot of advice about how to write better emails.
State the Point in the First Sentence:
Unless I'm looking to do an introduction or something of that sort, I try to make the point in the very first sentence. That way, if for some reason the email doesn't apply to the person receiving it (especially since emails tend to be forwarded around), they know immediately it's not applicable to them. Also, if the email is applicable to the given person, he or she knows exactly what I want right up front. Emails aren't supposed to be a test of reading comprehension.
Keep It Short:
I now try to keep the email body itself fairly short. I may make bullet points to clearly identify the highlights, but otherwise, if I start going over about 5-6 sentences, I take a hard look at what I'm writing. If I am doing a technical write-up, it probably needs to be in a separate document and included as an attachment.
Include Notifiers to Indicate No Reply/No Thanks Necessary:
I've learned to use NTN and NRN when I don't expect anything back. As a DBA there are a lot of times when I'm completing a task and letting a developer know the task is done. I don't need the email saying, "Thanks!" So I included NTN = No Thanks Necessary the first couple of times I deal with a particular individual and then simply go to NTN. This prevents him/her from sending an unnecessary email and me having to process an email that inherently has no value.
Target the Email Appropriately:
I see a lot of times when everyone and his brother is included on an email. This is especially true on a heavily technical email thread where a bunch of business folks are included. The thread might as well be written in Japanese to them. What's the point of including them? Better for the technical folks to work through the issues and then communicate to the business users, in business terms, in a separate email thread. The same is true on the other side. If it's a long thread, such as one trying to determine a root cause and it's important for others to be updated periodically, then do so, again, using appropriate language, as the need arises. Don't include that on the same thread as the technical nitty-gritty. It just confuses things.
What if you receive an email that you need to reply to but it has too many folks on there? I unashamedly trim the address list. And I include a comment as to why I trimmed it. I usually find that the trimming is honored.