Let’s talk about how to organize your email messages so that they are more likely to be read and acted upon. This article will share two acronyms: BLUF and ACE to help you consider ways to organize your professional emails.
I love the acronym “BLUF,” which stands for “Bottom Line Up Front.” Since in today’s society, most people aren’t going to read more than a screen-full of text, you need to have an executive summary of what you’re trying to communicate when you are sending your professional emails.
There’s no need to worry about an executive summary when you are writing to your mom or your best friend. On the other hand, when you are sending professional communications, you are sending them to other busy people, so it’s prudent and thoughtful if you put your main information – bing, bing, bing – right at the beginning of the email because then, regardless of whether people keep reading the rest of the email, they will have read the main points.
You want to hit them right away with, for example: “Agenda for this week’s meeting is below. Next to each agenda item I have written the name of the person who will be responsible for that,” which is then followed by the agenda. Whatever it is you are sending, craft one or two sentences that you can insert right at the beginning of your email, and then very quickly get into what you want to say following that executive summary.
For people (like me) who tend to be rather verbose or for people who are just generally “chatty,” it’s difficult to ‘cut to the chase’ with the BLUF (bottom line up front) because our tendency may be to introduce what we’re going to say with too much extraneous information. However, when you begin to see how your professional emails are getting a much higher and more timely response, you’ll realize that it’s worth the extra effort.
A second way to organize your email is to use ACE, which is an acronym for the “Action” you want people to take, the “Context” they may need for whatever the action is, and the E is for the “Ending,” which is whatever seems appropriate to end or close your email. Here is an example:
Prepare to speak at next Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting (4:00 – 4:15 agenda item)
As chair of the Equity Committee, the Faculty Senate is interested in the status of your findings up to this point.
Feel free to bring a one-page handout for 40 although this isn’t necessary. Thanks!
When I use ACE as my framework, I put the actual words Action, Context, and End in the email body because that prompts me to stay focused and address each of the three. It also let’s the reader know how the email is organized. In most email programs, including Outlook, you can set up an auto-text entry so that by typing a few letters, it inserts the structure directly into your email message.
It is certainly not necessary to use this structure for all emails, however, when you have important, time-sensitive, and deliberate emails you are sending (that you DO NOT want people to ignore and that you DO want them to take action on), then it’s highly recommended as a structure. Being terse is natural for some people and not so natural for others. Even for those who are normally parsimonious with their words, the BLUF and ACE structures are useful to assist in the clarity of email messages.
And to learn additional ways of ‘taming the email beast,’