30+ revisions to your email?

This was an interesting article on HarvardBusiness.org:

“How to Revise an Email So That People Will Read It”

In it David Silverman puts forth the benefits of revising your emails before sending.  He has some great points and tips like:

“…regardless of the source, the advice is sound: no email should be clicked-to-send without revision.”

“[Tip #] 9. Shorten. Remember the reader struggling to digest your message on the run — a BlackBerry or an iPhone gets about 40 words per screen. What looks short on your desktop monitor is an epic epistle on their mobile device.”

However, he then goes on to say that the number of revisions you make on an email is proportional to the number of people it’s being sent to:

“I’ve found that for your average email, the number of revisions largely depends on the number of recipients. Here’s my experience:

    1 to 5 recipients = 2 to 4 revisions
    5 to 10 recipients = 8 to 12 revisions
    Company-wide or to Executive Committee = 30 to 50 revisions


Occasionally a good idea just gets way too extreme.  I am not sure what motivated David Silverman to think this is a good idea and I doubt he follows this rule himself.  This is his experience?  Did he revise his blog post 30+ times because I’m sure he expects more than 10 people to read it.  How does he get anything done?

I think most corporate people who email daily can use most of these ideas in just one draft or a couple of revisions. I usually revise all my emails once before sending. However, I think the number of revisions is directly proportional to the importance and complexity of the email, not just the number of people receiving it.

If I am sending an email to our project managers (30+) but it is a quick note about a new item on the agenda I’ll give it a once over and send it on its way. If it is an email to my director that gives an assessment of our vendor’s latest performance I’ll give it a few revisions prior to sending out.

I think 8+ revisions is just wasteful. I have too much to attend to to spend this kind of time on a single email. If you can’t get an email right in the first few revisions there is something more inherently wrong than your ability to revise. Chances are you should be splitting your email into several to focus on the key topics individually. If it really is a "corporate" type email that requires several authors and revisions most likely it would be better developed as a professional document with proper headers, footers and branding and sent as an official PDF attached to a simple email. You know, what they did before email. 🙂

About Author

Matt Penner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *