Outside the supermarket the other day, I walked past a man who was trying to get his dog to sit. He said, “Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit, Rudy. Sit.” Each word was followed by a short pause during which the man’s dog, an American Staffordshire Terrier, did not sit.
I have learned not to butt in when my help has not been requested. But I wanted to tell the man that he was teaching his dog the command “Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit, Rudy. Sit.” Dog owners should say a command just once, “Rudy, sit.” If the dog does not sit, then the owner should put the dog in a sit position. That way, the dog learns the command “Sit” rather than “Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit.”
Email readers are different from dogs. Readers of email need to receive the command–the request for action–repeatedly in order to pay attention to it and respond the right way.
Take this example:
Subject: Agenda Items for Jan. 27 Planning Meeting: Please Submit by Jan. 21 [Sit.]
By Wednesday, Jan. 21, please send me your agenda items for the Jan. 27 planning meeting. [Sit.]
If I receive your items by Jan. 21 [Sit], I will include them in the final agenda I send out on Jan. 22.
I look forward to receiving your agenda items. [Sit.]
Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. If the email writer had said “Sit” only once–let’s say in the first sentence–the reader would likely overlook the request while speeding through an email inbox. The specific request for action needs to appear in the subject AND in the first sentence AND typically in one other place in the message.
Do you agree about this difference between dog training and email communicating? Feel free to extend the analogy.