The University of Bristol Email Charter

I really like the University of Bristol’s new email charter. But, I think it could be made a little more clear and actionable, especially since it can build off of previous work and thought about making emails clearer, shorter, and fewer in number. Below, I’ll go through the points listed in the original charter and try to make them clearer. I’ll also try to add some actions that add some teeth to the points. My comments are in italics.

Respect Recipients’ Time

  • As the message sender, the onus is on you to minimize the time your email will take to process.

  • A few practices I’ve seen that help this include:

    1. Never send an email longer than 5 sentences.
    2. Use formatting to your advantage. Keep it simple, but use italics, bold font, and enumeration/itemized lists to help readers scan the email for the asks, dates, or times you want to foreground.

Short is not Rude

  • If you receive a brief reply, don’t take it personally. Wordy responses take longer to compose and to read.
  • If you need a richer exchange of ideas or concepts, call the recipient or arrange a meeting.
  • If you need an immediate reply, just call the person. If you’ve been sent an email, know that if it were urgent, you would get a call.

Celebrate clarity

  • Start with a subject line that labels the topic. *(Indeed, consider using the subject line to make the ask itself in about 50 characters.)
  • *Identify whether the email is a request for information or action and indicate its priority.
  • If an email has to be long, make sure the first five sentences work like an abstract, providing the reason for writing and the main request.

Quash Open-ended Questions

  • Simplify your questions. Make them easy to answer. It is asking a lot to send someone an email with several long paragraphs of text followed by a non-specific question, such as “thoughts?”
  • Rhetorical questions and sarcasm are unclear over email. They are rarely appropriate.

Slash Surplus CC’s

  • Consider who needs to be copied into the email. For every recipient you add, you increas the total response time.
  • When there are multiple recipients to an email, do not default to “Reply All.”
  • Do not CC individuals who “may be interested,” but have not asked to be CC’d. Send pertinent informtion directly to the intended recipient(s).

Tighten the Thread

  • Some emails depend on surrounding messages in the thread for context. If changing the context of the conversation, such as when adding recipients or referring a conversation to someone else, use the header to clearly re-contextualize the past information.
  • Where possible, try not to extend a thread beyond 3 emails.

Attack Attachments

  • Do not use graphics or files that appear as attachments.
  • Do not send text as an attachment if it could have been included in the body of the email.
  • Do not send multiple different emails with attachments that belong in the same thread. If necessary, resend all attachments when updates are made to any copy.

Give a Gift

  • If your email message can be expressed in less than 10 words, put it in the subject line and leave a short statement in the subject.
  • Ending an email with “no need to respond” if you do not need a response to a question or action. However, consider whether sending an email at all is the appropriate way to state what would need to be stated in this fashion. It is patronizing to send a long email informing others of your thoughts, but suggesting others’ thoughts are not needed.
  • Take an action or make a distinct proposal, and suggest that it be approved unless folks reply to object.

Cut Contentless Responses

  • You don’t need to reply to every email, especially those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” does not need an additional reply confirming reciept.
  • *Dissent-based decisionmaking, where the motion is carried unless a certain threshold of individuals dissent, helps reduce empty “I agree” responses required by majoritarian balloting
Last modified 2019.06.17