You Should Write Email Like the BBC Writes News Stories
The text above is from a story on the main BBC website. Notice anything interesting about it?
Notice how short the paragraphs are?
The BBC uses 1-2 sentences per paragraph—that’s it. Go check for yourself. Click on any story.
Their paragraphs are 1-2 sentences and no more. And crisp ones, too. Not the gnarly Christopher Hitchens kind.
They made this change as part of a series of studies that found when they increase paragraph length their readership drops considerably. Busy people basically look at a large paragraph and think:
So they pass it up or delete it.
Here’s an example of a far-too-common work email paragraph:
That was written by Cicero in 45 BC, and if he sent me anything I’d probably read it. But you’re not Cicero.
Nobody has time to read that, and if you send this type of email people will simply get in the habit of ignoring you.
Write your email the way the BBC writes their news stories: 1-2 sentences per paragraph, broken up by bullets or quotes as needed. But don’t murder people with text.
This will have two effects:
More people will read your email
More people will consume your ideas
The BBC has done the work for you. All you have to do is execute.
The email style recommended here is best used for our most common interactions, e.g. making points, responding to points, and conveying basic information. For significant communications it’s quite acceptable to have longer, more classical paragraph structures.