About Overcome Email Overload with Eudora 5

About Overcome Email Overload with Microsoft Outlook 2000

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Other email material by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood:

A Beginner's Guide to Effective Email

Finding Email Addresses

Why I Don't Like Electronic Greeting Cards

Email Bibliography

Humorous looks at email:

The Dark Side of Web Publishing

Email vs. Letters

Hyphenate or not -- Email or E-mail?

Chapter 10 - Get and Keep Attention

Excerpted from Overcome Email Overload with Eudora 5
Copyright © 2001 Kaitlin Duck Sherwood

Picture your correspondent. She's sitting at a desk in a noisy office. She's right under the cooling duct, so she's cold. She's wearing glasses that are two years out of date and has to lean forward to read her screen. Her neck is sore. She's read fifty messages today and has another fifty in her inbox. She's tired, and to top it off, she's hungry. She wants to go home.

Why should she read your message?

If you don't grab her attention, she might never get around to reading your message. You will then need to send her another piece of email (which she also might not read), chase her down in person, or phone her. What a waste of time!

If you don't keep her attention, she might not read your message carefully and completely. She might skim over a key point and so not address it. Worse, she might abandon the message before finishing. Again, you would have to waste some of your time to get the response you need. Thus, it is a good idea to call attention to important messages.

You should also tell the truth about messages that are not important. If you routinely exaggerate the importance of your messages, your correspondents won't believe you when you write a message that really is important. If, on the other hand, you always show when messages have low priority, you will gain credibility with your correspondents. They'll be more likely to respond to your important messages.

This chapter shows techniques for quickly conveying a message's importance and main points. In turn, this will help you get and keep your correspondents' attention, allowing you to work more efficiently.

Get Attention

To get attention, you must make your purpose known quickly. If you waste your correspondents' time, you're not likely to get what you need when you need it. Ideally, your correspondents should be able to figure out what you want within the first few lines of your message.

Get Attention with Subject Headers

The first chance you have to get your correspondents' attention is in the subject header of your message. A clear indication of a message's topic and urgency will help your message stand out in your correspondents' (possibly long) list of messages. Subject: headers should summarize the message compactly, with the most important ideas at the beginning.

If you have trouble coming up with a good subject, imagine walking up to your correspondent and saying, "I'd like to talk to you about..." or "I'd like to ask you about..." The words that complete the sentence will probably make a good subject.

Signal Words

You might already be using some high-impact words or abbreviations in subject lines to signal your intentions.

The words URGENT: , REQ: , ACTION REQUIRED: , CAUTION: , or DANGER: in subject lines will--unless you overuse them--call attention to your messages. Putting the signal words BTW: , FYI: , and HUMOR: in the subject line of your low-priority messages will make your other messages look more important by contrast. (See Signal Words and Abbreviations in the Subject for more on common signal words.)

Because it might not be immediately obvious if a message is going only to one person or to many, you might be able to get more attention by using your correspondent's name in the subject lines:

Subject: Mabel: budget estimates

Occasionally, the message will be so short that it will fit completely on the Subject: line. In such cases, you can end the Subject: line with EOM or eom , for End Of Message.

Subject: red minivan lights on, license 2DLH822(EOM)

Don't forget to repeat the contents of the subject line in the body of the message, as mentioned in Repeat Subject in the Body.

    Tip: Because not everybody understands EOM , you might want to spell out End of Message in the body of the message.
Signal Importance with Addressing Method

Which distribution option you choose-- To: , Cc: , or Bcc: --can tell your correspondents how you hope they will respond to the message.


You should use the To: header for people who the message affects directly. This includes people who:

  • have specifically requested information contained in your message,
  • might know the answer to a question in your message, or
  • you would like to take an action in response to your message.

Putting people on the To: header encourages them to respond.


If you do not want a response unless something is wrong, you can use Cc: This lets people stay informed but tells them that they don't need to respond, leading to less email for you. There are several reasons why you would add a group of people to the Cc: list:

  • You think that one or more of the Cc: group might have comments or corrections. You might be paraphrasing something one of the Cc: group said, or you might be less of an authority than someone in the Cc: group.
  • You think the outcome of the conversation will affect the Cc: group (but they won't have to take any direct action).
  • You think the Cc: group needs to know the information in the message. (For example, your boss might want to know what you're up to.)

Here is an example of a message that uses To : and Cc: well:

To: jim@flossrecycling.com

Cc: john@flossrecycling.com, betsy@flossrecycling.com,

donald@flossrecycling.com, charles@flossrecycling.com, maryjane@flossrecycling.com

From: liz@flossrecycling.com

Subject: Release

Jim -

I've attached the change orders for Release I've checked with John, Betsy, Donald, Charles, and Mary Jane, and they say they are ready to ship just as soon as you approve the change orders. Please review and approve the change orders as soon as you can.


Here Jim was the only one who needed to take an action as a result of the message, so he was the only one on the To: header. John, Betsy, Donald, Charles, and Mary Jane did not have actions that they needed to perform, so Liz did not put them on the To: header. Liz put the other people in the Cc: header, so they wouldn't need to respond but could make corrections if Liz misunderstood something.

    Tip: Don't add high-status people who are not genuinely involved in your issue. Your status will suffer if a high-status people replies to everybody with, "Who are you and why are you sending me this?"
Bcc:/Group Nicknames with Full Name

As mentioned in Reduce the Number of Incoming Messages, nobody can see your Bcc: list except you. Group nicknames that have Full Names also hide the list of receivers, as discussed in How to Use Group Nicknames to Discourage Discussions. Using Bcc: or a named group nickname means that responses to your message will only go to you.

If you think that your correspondents will want to read your message but not any later discussion, you should use Bcc: or a named group nickname. This is not only nice for your correspondents but also useful to you. The fewer messages your correspondents get from other people, the more time they will have for messages from you.

Use Your Correspondent's Name

If you greet your correspondent by name in the body of the message, then you've made it clear that the message is specifically for him or her. Your correspondent will know that you are not sending your message to an arbitrary group of people in the hope that someone--anyone--in the group will answer it.

If you are addressing a group instead of an individual, you can use a functional name in the greeting, like Dear Payroll Data-Entry Clerks . Even such an impersonal greeting tells each of the payroll data-entry clerks that the message might be of interest to them.

Yes, the address list can show how many people you sent the message to, but people don't always look at the address lists. If you put your correspondent's name in the body of the message, you make it obvious.

Identify Yourself to Strangers

People who don't know you are much more likely to pay attention to your message if they have an idea of what you want and who you are. You should get their attention by answering the following questions very quickly:

  • Who are you? In what role are you acting?
  • How did you hear of your correspondent?
  • Why will your correspondent be interested in your message?

Do this at the beginning of the message. It should not take more than three or four lines. Frequently, it will take only one sentence to answer all three questions. For example:

Subject: playground tour

To: Mabel Garcia <mabel@flossresearch.com>

From: J. Wilson <tallperson@catfloss.org>

Mabel -


Ezra Snodwhistle said that you were interested in getting a tour of the rose garden that I designed.


Ezra said you would like to see it before the Rose Gardeners' Club meeting on Tuesday, 19 Jan 2038, at 4 PM. I'd be happy to show you the garden, but I have to take my horse to the dentist that day at 3 PM. If you have time, I can show you the garden after the meeting.


Giving your name isn't as important as explaining your role. Your name alone probably doesn't help your correspondents figure out the message's topic.

Use Priority Levels

Eudora allows you to mark the priority of a message. This can be a useful attention-getter.

However, you should not rely too heavily on priority levels for getting attention.

  • Different email software programs implement priority signals differently. Some of your correspondents might not be able to see the priorities you set.
  • Many people ignore priority levels because too many people set the priority level higher than their messages deserve.
  • Filters can reset the priority level.

If you do mark messages' priorities, be realistic. If you mark all of your messages high-priority, people will stop trusting your ratings. You should mark no more than ten percent of your messages with the highest priority. Conversely, you should be careful to give low priority to messages that are not very urgent or important. If you consistently give your messages appropriate priority levels, your correspondents might learn to trust your priority ratings.

Mark priorities for messages according to how important they are to your correspondents, not to you. That your child scored well on an exam might be the most important thing in the world to you, but it is unlikely that anyone else at your workplace will like being interrupted to learn that.

Also be sensitive to your status in your organization's hierarchy. If you send something with highest priority to your subordinates, they will give it more attention than if it came from a peer. Your subordinates might suddenly stop everything to handle a high-priority message from you. On the other hand, your boss might be irritated by a message that calls too loudly for his or her attention.

Keep Attention

Getting attention is not very useful if you can't keep it. This is not a trivial task. Your correspondents undoubtedly want to deal with your message as quickly as possible. You need to make the message easy to read, make your points easy to find, and present yourself as someone worth responding to.

Make the Message Easy to Read

Your correspondents want to get through your messages as fast as possible. Help them.

Shorten the Message

Most email messages are part of ongoing negotiations so do not need to be very long. Whenever possible, keep your message short enough that your correspondents don't need to scroll to see all of it. When reading a long message, they might decide that the delete button is easier to reach than the scrollbar.

Granted, if your document is a report or plan whose purpose is to give extensive detail--like an annual report or a marketing campaign plan--it might need to be long. In such cases, sending it by email might not be the best way to distribute it. If you have the capability, it is better to post long documents on a Web page and send only its Web address. Besides keeping the email message short, this lets you make changes to the document after you send out the Web address.

If you are sending a message to a lot of people, a named group nickname helps to shorten the message. It can be annoying to have to wade through all the addresses to get to the body of the message.

If you don't want to create a group nickname with a Full Name , you can use Bcc: and put a line in your message somewhere that summarizes who you are sending the message to:

(Bcc used to trim the address list; this message sent to 50 of Mabel's most intimate friends)


You can also use the greeting to show who else is getting the message:

Subject: birthday party!

Dear friends of Mabel's:


Mabel's 45th birthday is coming up soon. I am planning on having a party for her at Mama Del's Pizza Parlor next Saturday, June 6th, at 6 PM. Please join us!

Because hiding the addresses can be a signal that the receivers don't need to respond, you might want to say explicitly if you want the unnamed people to respond:

Subject: birthday party!

Dear friends of Mabel's:


Mabel's 45th birthday is coming up soon. I am planning on having a party for her at Mama Del's Pizza Parlor next Saturday, June 6th, at 6 PM. Please join us!


Please tell me if you can come or not.

Shorten Paragraphs

You should keep your paragraphs short, not just your messages. It is easier to locate a sentence that is near the beginning or ending of a paragraph, so shorter paragraphs make it easier for your correspondents to find their places. While this is true when reading any text, it is especially useful when your readers scroll through text. The somewhat unpredictable jumping of scrolled text makes it even easier for readers to lose their place. Keeping paragraphs short reduces the chance that a reader will skip a sentence or two.

Avoid Attachments

As mentioned in Make Messages Legible, not everybody can read all attachments. Even if your correspondents can open attachments, they might not want to. In addition to potentially exposing your correspondence to viruses, opening attachments can take a few moments that your correspondents might not want to spare. You are more likely to keep their attention with a plain, text-based message.

Make Your Points Easy to Find

Making it easier for your correspondents to track the text is good, but you also need to make your points easy to find.

Cut Extraneous Information

One of the fastest ways to lose your readers is to hide the point of the message. In the example below, the real reason for sending the message is hidden in the middle of a huge amount of irrelevant material:

Subject: information

Dear Ms. Garcia:


I'm a nurse at the Medical Center of Carp (East Wing) in Indiana. I have two dogs, three kids, and a fabulous wife who comes from Paris, Illinois. She's also named Mabel, and her maiden name was Garcia, too! Quite a coincidence, huh? My business manager is really hassling me about my floss budget. He's a bit of a jerk, but I can't quit now, so I have to put up with it. How much floss per patient is reasonable? I have been using about 10 cm per patient per night. I guess I can see how hospital spending could get cut, what with HMOs and all. That doesn't mean I have to like it. My wife is pretty good at stretching our limited budget. For example, she has this great recipe for fake Cornish game hens that is so good that it doesn't matter what the price of real hens is. Would you like the recipe?


Your correspondents could easily get bored with a message like this and not read it carefully, postpone reading it, or ignore it completely. This means more work for you to get the response you need.

You are much more likely to get speedy responses with a message like this:

Subject: typical floss usage

Dear Ms. Garcia -


I'm wondering what reasonable floss consumption in a

hospital setting is. I'm using approximately 10 centimeters

per patient per night. How much floss do most hospitals use?


    Tip: This advice assumes that your correspondent is busy and doesn't care much about you. Your mother, however, probably wants all the details.
Put the Most Important Topic First

If you introduce topics in the order of their importance, your correspondent will find the main point right away. It's also a good idea to mark non-essential text with the phrases "for your information" (FYI) or "by the way" (BTW). That way, your correspondent has a clearer idea of what points you care most about:

Subject: typical floss usage

Dear Ms. Garcia -


I'm wondering what reasonable floss consumption in a

hospital setting is. I'm using approximately 10

centimeters per patient per night. How much floss do most

hospitals use?


BTW, my wife is also named Mabel, and her maiden name was Garcia! Quite a coincidence, huh? She's from Paris, Illinois, a wonderful mother to our two dogs and three kids, and a great cook. She's got an outstanding recipe for fake Cornish game hens, for example. Would you like

the recipe?


Discuss One Issue per Message

Once your correspondents have found your main point, you need to make sure they don't lose it again. Sending a message with several unrelated issues that need a response can lead to trouble. It is easy for your correspondent to discuss only one of the points raised, forgetting the others. It's even fairly common for people to neglect the most important issue, as in this example:

Subject: Re: typical floss usage

>Dear Ms. Garcia -


>I'm wondering what reasonable floss consumption in a

>hospital setting is. I'm using approximately 10

>centimeters per patient per night. How much floss do most

> hospitals use?


>BTW, my wife is also named Mabel, and her maiden name was

>Garcia! Quite a coincidence, huh? She's from Paris,

>Illinois, a wonderful mother to our two dogs and three

>kids, and a great cook. She's got an outstanding recipe

>for fake Cornish game hens, for example. Would you like

>the recipe?


I love Cornish game hens! I would love to have that recipe.


Long messages are more vulnerable to this problem than short messages: what scrolls off the screen frequently scrolls out of short-term memory. Topics that require thought or a lot of research are also likely to make your reader forget previous topics.

You should try to limit your email messages to a single topic or set of closely related topics. While it is cumbersome to send two separate paper letters for two topics, addressing and sending email is so fast that sending multiple messages in succession should not be a burden.

If you are worried that your correspondents will feel overwhelmed if they get a lot of messages from you all at once, ask yourself if you would rather get one long message or several short messages. If it still bothers you to send multiple messages, put a note in the first message that warns them that further messages are coming.

Summarize Long Messages at the Beginning and End

If you insist on sending a message that raises multiple issues, summarize the issues at the beginning of the message. Then, at the end of the message, mention each of the issues again. This is particularly important if there are questions that you need answered. For example:

Subject: staff meeting issues



Yesterday's staff meeting brought up three issues: interns, the picnic, and the patent application.


First, the summer is approaching quickly, and we need to figure out how many interns we want. Jeff has already asked for an intern to help with the paper clip inventory, but I think we can get two more. Do you have any unpleasant tasks that a student could do?


Second, the Picnic Committee is still looking for a good place for the summer party. I remember your husband raving about the place his company's picnic was held a few years ago - that place where the geese stole his boss' toupee. Can you remember the name of that place?


Third, Martha Boise in Legal is ready to start working on your patent application. As soon as you and Winston have finished with the budget estimates, I'd like you to give the patent application your full attention.



+ Where do you think summer interns would be useful?

+ Where was your husband's company picnic?

+ When will you and Winston finish the budget estimates?


The way this message is structured, Chantelle isn't likely to forget to answer any of the questions.

Separate Quotes with Blank Lines

White space is very helpful for making the boundaries between quoted and new material clear. Eudora will automatically insert a blank line, but it is possible to delete the line between old and new.

If quoted and new material runs together, your correspondent might skip over one of your points, thinking it was part of a quote. If Mabel reads the following message quickly, she might miss the line in the middle. Mabel might think that Chantelle agreed to finish the budget estimates by Thursday:

Subject: Re: budget estimates

To: Mabel Garcia <mabel@flossresearch.com>

From: Chantelle Williams <chantelle@flossresearch.com>

Are you going to have the budget estimates printed up and

distributed by Thursday? Pat wants everything by Friday.

No, I haven't gotten the sales results from Winston yet.

Additionally, I'd like it if you would please order seven

reports with blue covers (not yellow) for the Expo.

I can do that.


If your correspondents don't use Eudora, they will probably see ">" instead of the black vertical bars. It is even easier to misread messages with ">" quotes:

Subject: Re: budget estimates

To: Mabel Garcia <mabel@flossresearch.com>

From: Chantelle Williams <chantelle@flossresearch.com>

>Are you going to have the budget estimates printed up and

>distributed by Thursday? Pat wants everything by Friday.

No, I haven't gotten the sales results from Winston yet.

>Additionally, I'd like it if you would please order seven

>reports with blue covers (not yellow) for the Expo.

I can do that.


A blank line separating quotes and next text makes the message much more legible.

It is also helpful to put two blank lines between the end of a section of new material and the start of another quote. The second blank line shows that you are done discussing the first quote and have moved on to the second quote:

Subject: Re: budget estimates

To: Mabel Garcia <mabel@flossresearch.com>

From: Chantelle Williams <chantelle@flossresearch.com>

Are you going to have the budget estimates printed up and

distributed by Thursday? Chris wants everything by Friday.


No, I haven't gotten the sales results from Winston yet.



Additionally, I'd like it if you would please order seven

reports with blue covers (not yellow) for the Expo.


I can do that.


Make Messages Legible discusses in detail a number of other issues affecting legibility of messages.

Shorten Quotes

Electronic mail messages frequently contain material quoted from previous messages. There are good reasons for quoting material, as discussed in Provide Adequate Context. However, quotes that are too long or too hard to follow will make your correspondent lose interest and/or miss your point.

When you incorporate a long original message into a response, your response is more readable when you remove extraneous text and/or paraphrase the original message. This makes it easy for your reader to find your points. For example, Chantelle could respond to the message about Subject: staff meeting issues by quoting only the last three lines:

Subject: Re: staff meeting issues

To: Mabel Garcia <mabel@flossrecycling.com>

From: Chantelle Williams <chantelle@flossrecycling.com>

>+ Where do you think summer interns would be useful?


It would be really nice to have someone to keep the break rooms tidy and the coffee pots full.



>+ Where was your husband's company picnic?


It was held out at Land O'Clowns, but I can't recommend it. It was cold, windy, and the geese stole all the hot dog buns.



>+ When will you and Winston finish the budget estimates?


Tomorrow, I hope. Winston's creeping Norwegian sunwarts have stopped itching enough that he's able to concentrate again.


You should quote only enough context to make the message clear. Try to keep quoted material to less than half of the lines in an email message.

With Eudora, it is easy to create a reply with just the text you want to include. With Eudora for Mac OS, you need to select the text that you want, then hold down the Shift key while selecting Reply . A new reply composition window will appear with only the text you selected, with that text properly quoted. This works regardless of how you select Reply :

  • clicking on the Reply button
  • typing Command-r
  • selecting Message -> Reply

With Eudora for Windows, if you have selected any text, replying usually quotes only the text you selected. You can change to quoting the entire message by selecting Tools -> Option... -> Replying and unchecking the box next to Quote only the selected text .

If you don't have time to edit a quote and must include the whole thing, put your comments before the quote. Paging through a long quote to get to your comments might irritate your readers.

    Tip: Many people quote the entire message, no matter how long. If you shorten quotes, you will have less to read through when your correspondents quote your message back at you.
Raise Your Perceived Status

The higher your perceived status, the more interested people will be in reading (and finishing) your message. However, your correspondents can't tell much about who you are from email.

Your correspondents will probably do the same thing you might catch yourself doing--make assumptions on the flimsiest of pretexts. I am emphatically not saying that people should stereotype, just trying to warn you that they might.


Your language probably influences people's impression of your status more than anything else. Lots of misspellings, poor grammar, and misused words will make people suspect that you are uneducated. From that, they might conclude that you are not very clever. It doesn't matter that the correlation between language skill and intelligence is weak (especially among non-native speakers); many people will draw that conclusion anyway.

Some people are literally insulted by messages that contain errors, especially typographical errors. They feel that flagrant errors show disrespect: if you cared, you would have been more careful.

Eudora in Paid or Sponsored mode has a built-in spelling checker and fixer. For every word that is underlined (Mac OS) or double-underlined (Windows), Eudora can suggest a better spelling. To see Eudora's suggestions under Mac OS, Control -click on a misspelled word. Under Windows, right-click on the misspelled word.

Show Status Explicitly

You can influence people's impressions by showing your status explicitly. You can do this by adding a signature that shows your job title:

Subject: catalog request

From: Martha Boise <marty@flossresearch.com>

Please email me information about your product line.



Martha J. Boise

Vice-President of Legal Affairs

Floss Recycling Incorporated


Your signature should be brief. Your name is probably in the message header and your email address always is. To reply by email, your correspondent probably doesn't even need to look at your email address. You should only give your phone number and address if you are willing to get phone calls and visitors!

    Tip: A signature sends a signal to your readers that they have read your entire message. If you don't routinely sign messages, people might accidentally stop after the first page of a two-page message. They are less likely to forget to scroll if they are used to seeing your signature at the end.

It can also be effective to start your message with status information:

Subject: catalog request

Hi, I'm the Vice-President of Legal Affairs at Floss Recycling Incorporated. Please email me information about your product line; I'm interested in buying your company.


Personal Opinion on Language

I have read a number of "email etiquette" guides that say that you should always use correct grammar and spelling, as if the etiquette authority wants you to stop deliberately inserting errors. Nobody wants their messages to have errors, but it takes time and effort to double-check a message. If you write forty messages every day, you might not have the time to make every message perfect.

I have known some people who are paralyzed by their perfectionism. They worry so much about getting everything right that they never send any messages. I would much rather quickly get a response with errors than never get a perfect one. If you don't respond to my messages, I will think less of you than if you don't conjugate your verbs properly.

If you only have a limited amount of time to spend on a message to me, I'd prefer that you spend your time on making sure there is adequate context than on making your grammar flawless. I'd much rather get a message that says:

Subject: Warning!

There is 50 people with machine guns on Main Street abt 1 mi aways wallking north and they not friendly so getcher selves outta here protno!!!!!


than one about the same situation that says:

Subject: Warning!

You would be advised to leave the building promptly.


I can usually guess what the proper grammar is; I usually can't guess what the proper context is.

Choosing Your Battles

How much energy should you invest in raising your perceived status for a particular message? That depends upon several things:

  • Do you know your correspondents already? Your message probably won't change the opinions of the people you work most closely with, but if you are sending a message to someone in another division who you've never met, you probably want to mention what your job function is.
  • What depends on the mail? If you are sending email to the head of your organization, you probably should be careful about your grammar. Salespeople who want your business, on the other hand, are paid to not care about your grammar.
  • Are your correspondents likely to care? The head of the documentation department might care more about your spelling than your project team leader. People who send lots of email will probably be more tolerant than people who have the luxury of spending an hour on every email message.
  • What do your correspondents' messages look like? If they send you email with incorrect punctuation, poor spelling, and bad grammar, they probably won't care too much if you do the same.


To get attention:

  • Write compelling subject headers that are compact and summarize your messages.
  • Put signal words in subject headers: URGENT :, REQ :, ACTION REQUIRED :, CAUTION !, DANGER !, and first names are useful to raise priority. FYI: and BTW: are useful for conveying that a message is less urgent.
  • If you can keep the message to one line, put it in the Subject: line. Use eom at the end of the subject to show that there is no further information (but be sure to repeat the information in the body of the message!)
  • Use To: for people who you want to take an action. Use Cc : for people who are interested, affected, or authorities. Use Bcc: to shorten address lists, maintain privacy, and spare your correspondents from follow-up discussions.
  • Use priority levels, but only mark things urgent if they really are. Always show when a message is low-priority.
  • Identify yourself to strangers and explain why you chose to write to them.

To keep attention:

  • Make your messages and paragraphs short: scrolling is hard.
  • Cut information that isn't essential. Shorten long quotes, paraphrasing or deleting as needed.
  • Put topics in order of importance.
  • If you need to write about unrelated issues, try to put them in different messages.
  • If a message is long or contains several unrelated topics, summarize the message at both the beginning and the end.
  • Use blank lines between quoted material to improve legibility.
  • When asking for a favor, show that you've already put some effort into solving the problem.
  • Raise your perceived status with proper grammar and spelling or by explicitly giving your position.

Go up to Table of Contents
Go back to Chapter 9 - Make Messages Legible
Go on to Chapter 11 - Improve Your Company's Email Effectiveness