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Hey — thanks in advance for reading this one.

I literally hate work email for dozens of reasons. First: most people hide behind it or dont reply. Second: no one in corporate America seems to know how to write an email with any context. Third: because you’re not actually seeing the person, simple phrases can make them seem like a total dick. And fourth: all it does is underscore the existing hierarchy. If you’re high up a chain, you can never reply — or reply at the 11th hour and change the whole project — and that’s fine. But if you’re down a chain and don’t reply, your performance reviews will say that you “lack initiative” or something.

Problem is, there’s somewhere between 89 billion and 114 billion work emails sent every day globally, so we’re clearly into this as a communication tool. I know, I know — Slack! Trello! I get it. The thing is, most people are still out there working like it’s 1992. Some cool hipster coder and maybe one 58 year-old in your office might “get” Slack, but to think it’s at scale yet is folly. Offices take a long time to change, because process is God and change terrifies people.

Since email is still around and will be for a while, let’s figure out if we can make it more effective. Thanks in advance, again.

The thanks in advance email study

The guys at Boomerang analyzed 350,000 email threads, and here were the top four sign-offs that got you a higher response rate:

  1. Thanks in advance
  2. Thanks
  3. Thank you
  4. Cheers

“Thanks in advance” had a response rate of 65.7% across the 350,000 email threads analyzed. Not bad.

First target to hit looking at this list: since some equate work with “chimp rape,” clearly there’s a lot of power in saying various forms of thank you as regards emails being answered. Phrased another way: there’s a lot of power in workplace gratitude.

But really … thanks in advance?

I personally have never been a fan of the “thanks in advance” sign-off, because it kind of feels presumptuous. What do I mean? Well, I think one of the tougher things about most jobs is lack of priority. You know how it works. There’s all these various competing projects, etc. No one is totally clear on what matters first vs. second, but everything is being defined as “urgent” for some reason or the other. That, plus overlapping job roles, causes a lot of confusion.

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So like, most times I’ve ever gotten/seen “thanks in advance” on emails, it’s some low-priority cluster mess that some middle manager has deemed is urgent, and needs it 40 minutes from now. Then after all the hair on fire “hey what the hell is this” shlock in the body, you get this:

Thanks in advance, Jane.

It kinda seems like the person just virtually fly-swatted you, but maybe I’m wrong on that.

But what it does mean is …

Terrible, unclear emails make work harder. People have to decipher then, then run in circles trying to figure out what the deliverable of the email was/is. It probably adds about 47 minutes to most people’s day, if not even more than that.

This is what you should do when you send emails in a work context, if possible:

  1. Make sure all relevant people are on them (so that we don’t get the reply all threads that keep adding new people)
  2. Mention the deliverable/outcome of the email at the top, because if it gets long, you know ain’t nobody got time for that
  3. Be clear and explain the project, why this is an email, what needs to be done/reviewed, etc.
  4. Note the time frame on whatever you’re asking (Temple of Busy people love to complain about time frames in emails)
  5. Keep it relatively short.
  6. Sign off with some form of gratitude.

Now, mobile email made this a lot worse — because people feel the need to reply (push/pull) but can’t crank out a lot of context on the go, so information isn’t conveyed super well. Alas. Tech is our savior and our downfall.

Thanks in advance,

Ted.

Written by

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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