The Three-Sentence Email

Manuel Ebert
2 min readFeb 14, 2018
That’s me on a Tuesday morning.

I get around 60 non-marketing emails into my inbox a day and have to respond to at least 30 of those. If you send me an email, you’ll find that I’m much more likely to respond if your email is three sentences or less. Nothing good ever happens after the third sentence.

In fact, the most successful people are known for their brief emails. Here are some tips to keep your emails to three sentences or less:

When you’re asking for something.

Make it easy for people to help you by asking for specific things.

  1. Context: Say why you need something.
  2. Objective: Say what your goal state is, and how they know their contribution was meaningful.
  3. Actionable steps: Say exactly what you need them to do. Make this bold.

When you did something and need to tell people.

Help people understand what you did, why you did it, and how it impacts them.

  1. Context: Say what the thing you did is relevant for and why it was necessary.
  2. Content: Say what you did.
  3. Conclusion: Say what the impact of what you did to the recipient is.

When you have to provide constructive criticism.

Good people with the best intentions sometimes do bad things, or good things poorly.

  1. Context: Say what happened and what the recipient did.
  2. Effect: Say what the negative effect of their action was.
  3. Actionable steps: Say how they could have done better.

Always assume good intentions. People make mistakes not out of malice and seldom out of incompetence, but often out of ignorance of their actions impact.

When you’re planning on doing something.

You are planning something with uncertain outcome and need people to be on your side.

  1. Context: Say why you need to do something and state assumptions.
  2. Hypothesis: Say what you will do and what you expect the effect of what you’re trying to do to be.
  3. Goals: Say how you know that what you are trying to do is successful.

When you’re giving praise.

Forget brevity, never limit the praise you give.

Finally…

  1. Make the subject line your spokesperson. Make sure it’s relevant and searchable.
  2. You can omit context if you’re replying to an email if everybody understands and is aligned on the context. If not, provide context, even if it seems repetitive.
  3. A gif says more than a thousand words. But it’s not always clear which words those are.

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Manuel Ebert

Ex-neuroscientist, data wrangler, designer, co-founder of AI consulting firm summer.ai