Idea: The Email Abstract Field
Sometimes I write too-long emails. Before I hit send, it occasionally occurs to me that if I got an email that long I would probably dread reading it. But there are times when a long email is necessary. For example, sometimes you need to tell a company every detail of how awful your experience with their product was before you ask for a refund. Or you need to explain to your boss how much money and resources your company is wasting by not recycling before you pitch your idea to help the environment and the bottom line.
If they can only get through my first nine paragraphs, they’ll get to the part where where you explain why you’re writing.
When I find myself in this situation, I sometimes start the email with the heading: “Short Version:” and then a brief abstract. I give more detail than I could in the subject line, but I still keep it to just a few sentences. I say why I’m writing and what I want from the person I’m writing to.
The I write “Long Version:” and fill in all the gory details in as many paragraphs as I need.
For example, my subject line might say: “I had a terrible time at your hotel.”
The abstract might say: “I stayed at your hotel from January 3-7, 2010 in room 227. It was one awful day after another, the room was filthy, and I think the maid stole my watch. I would like a refund. More details below.”
And then the body would give my long tale of woe about how everything went wrong from the moment I arrived to the moment I checked out. I don’t have to worry that I buried the lede in the last paragraph.
Which gets me to my point: As the occasional recipient of rambling emails, I think this feature should be automatic in email programs. It could be a sometimes-hidden field like the bcc: field is in many email programs, or perhaps a popup abstract field could be triggered when you hit “Send” on an email beyond a certain length. It’s probably too late to make a new field standard in all email, but maybe Google can put it in their Gmail Labs for people like me.