Bottom line: I’m going to use “bottom line” statements at the top of my posts so readers can quickly figure out whether or not the post is worth reading.

A few years ago, a close friend and I were discussing email etiquette and strategies for getting people to actually read your email. The problem is, we are both medical students… and we get tons of email. This means that nobody reads any of it. At best, of what *is read… very little is retained. Too many other priorities to allocate mental RAM for short-to-medium term retention of information that almost never warrants memorization. Our inboxes are flooded to overflowing with a mixed bag of critical information for the upcoming rotation, ads from other students looking to sell books or rent an apartment, and seemingly dozens of inane newsletters from every entity that thinks enrolling us in their newsletter is okay, since they only send stuff out a few times per month (the product of which is often several newsletters per day).

On top of this, we discussed how easy it is to become desensitized to certain types of communication depending on the originator. For example, there are certain entities whose emails are so frequent and yet infrequently relevant or interesting that I’ve added them to a rule named “Blind” that blindly marks their messages as read. I think many others do this manually – blindly deleting a message without really reading it because they’re pretty sure that the sender has written nothing they’ll care to read. My friend and I were in the process of starting a student group that would have information we thought students would frequently like to hear. On one hand, we’d honestly prefer to use a non-email tool for all our communication, such as RSS, our blog, or some social media platform. One of the problems is that our student group is aimed to help medical students use technology, so by definition some of our target audience is “technologically deficient.” This means that RSS is probably out, posting to the blog doesn’t “push” timely updates, and unfortunately no single social media platform reaches all of the students. For these reasons, we still use email for updates that are urgent and/or relevant to the whole student body. However, we decided to take measures against email overload,* including:

  1. Narrow an email’s recipients as much as practical (e.g. a specific class year instead of the student body)
  2. Send class-wide email updates as infrequently as possible, using other methods (social media, blog posts) for less important updates
  3. Employ a “bottom line” statement in the first line of our emails that embodied the point of the email in a single sentence.
  4. Use a descriptive subjective line devoid of hyperbole

Some of our goals were to make our emails infrequent enough to retain their value, while allowing students to know within 15 seconds whether or not they want to devote their precious time to read the rest of the email and/or follow the instructions therein. This discussion happened years ago, but it’s had a lasting impact on my email habits. In those years, I’ve also noted that I’m inexcusably verbose when regarding topics important to me. This bad habit continues in my emails and blog posts, most frequently when I’m writing about nutrition or technology.

The ultimate remedy for this problem would be to improve my writing, emphasizing brevity and conciseness in my communication. Since I don’t have time or energy to do that, I’m just going to redouble my efforts to include “bottom line” statements in my posts. I think I’m also going to try using “after the jump” (“Read more…”) links so that the main page of my site features more of my posts per unit visual space.

Je N’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
I have only made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter.
–Blaise Pascal. Lettres provinciales, 16, Dec.14,1656. Cassell’s Book of Quotations, London,1912. P.718.

Source and interesting background for the quote.