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E-mail to change you

by Lt. Col. Kevin Krause
6th Communications Squadron commander

How many of you have received an e-mail which goes on and on requiring lots of your time to figure out exactly why it was sent to you and what you're supposed to do with it? How about being carbon copied on a series of replies dating back to the invention of e-mail forcing you to start at the bottom reading all the way to the top to figure out what's going on?

Or, how about my favorite "FYI" e-mail with subject line "Gobbeldygook Junk Yada Yada" and 2 MB of PowerPoint briefings and documents attached? Wow, let me review every word so I don't miss a thing.

With this kind of e-mail usage, I guess I can understand why we fall into measuring success in the modern office environment by how many e-mails we get through in a day. Honestly, it makes me long for the good old days when not just anyone with a computer could "task" anyone else for almost anything. A person actually had to prioritize and call or visit someone to get something done.

Well, the good old days won't be coming back anytime soon. In fact, I have dedicated, hard-working folks working 24/7 in the 6th Communications Squadron to ensure you get every e-mail sent your way.

The problems I've mentioned with e-mail are obviously their fault then. No, our network will pass good e-mails just as quickly as the bad ones. The real problem lies with those who write the e-mails, and I'd like to offer a few suggestions for improvement.

I'd like to claim all of these ideas as my own, but I can't. The first two come from Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege, the highest ranking communications officer in the U.S. Air Force until his recent retirement.

According to General Raduege, if you want to quickly improve your contributions to the Air Force, the single most important thing you can do is write better e-mails.

First, send short e-mails. Summarize who,where,why and what the receiver is supposed to do with it (information only, decision needed, act on it etc.) in three sentences or less. Adding all the details is great, but simply say "see below for further details" and add them after the quick summary.

Second, never send an e-mail with FYI only. You've made no contribution - a monkey could have sent it just as easily. Before forwarding an e-mail, read it from top to bottom, delete extra junk in the middle (extra addresses, extra irrelevant replies, etc.), and summarize the issue in the same three sentences discussed in the first suggestion.

Third, create a useful "subject" line which actually describes the e-mail. Good subject lines are great for categorizing and sorting through lots of e-mail. I don't get too excited about seeing movies with dumb titles and e-mails aren't much different.

Fourth, never write anything in an e-mail you wouldn't say to someone face-to-face. Electronic records are maintained of every single e-mail you send and they can be sent worldwide at the speed of light. There's no sense producing something which can come back to haunt you down the road.

Fifth, never forget "sending" an e-mail doesn't guarantee it will ever be read. Nor does "sending" absolve you of responsibility in the matter. Most of us have other things to do than sit by the computer all day long awaiting e-mail. If it's truly important, follow up with a phone call or mention the issue at staff meeting. If it's not that important, then perhaps you shouldn't send it at all.

If you've actually read this article, I hope you'll see the wisdom in it. The bottom line is to focus on writing better to help the proposed reader save time and in turn, better help you and the mission. Let's help make e-mail much less of a burden and much more of an asset for all of us by making these rules our own and by spreading the word.

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