Is 450 words too long for an email?
May 11, 2021 7:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to clear up a big misunderstanding. Got myself into a pickle with my sub-par communication skills.
posted by jumanjinight to Writing & Language (21 answers total)
It depends. But probably.
posted by stray at 7:16 PM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Did you use paragraph breaks? I get plenty of informational emails that long.

This question might demonstrate that you're overly terse, though.
posted by sagc at 7:25 PM on May 11, 2021 [31 favorites]

There’s no set rule that covers all emails. To me this question is about the same as “is a 30 minute conversation too long?” An email to a relative or old friend catching them up on gossip or telling them about some funny thing that happened to you? Totally good, hell make it twice as long. A reminder to a colleague about a work product they owe you? Definitely too long.

I would love to know the context here, but there are a couple of problems you could possibly run into if you send a long email. In some contexts it might come off a as lecturey, or ranty, or overly intense, or over-share-y, or over-step-y, or condescending, or or or... but there’s absolutely no way to even guess without knowing, at least, what the email was about.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:26 PM on May 11, 2021 [7 favorites]

I assume you may have to apologize to someone?

Open with a very short restatement of what the email is for.

Explain yourself, if, in explaining yourself, you are making clear what the problem was, and what you're doing to address that going forward.

Do not restate what you were TRYING to do, that is not the issue at this point and it will not help.

Do not try to get into the head of other people. That is not the issue at this point and it will not help.

If necessary, explain, briefly, why you did what you did not to excuse it but to let people understand the context.

Restate the reason for the email. If this is an apology state that you are truly sorry.

Did it take 450 words? If so then that is how much it takes.
posted by jessamyn at 7:36 PM on May 11, 2021 [17 favorites]

It is pretty long, and if you think you have caused offence, it provides a lot for an offended person to misinterpret.

In my experience it is usually better to clear things up by talking, on the phone or in person. It is easier to convey sentiment in conversation, and it is harder for the other person to just get angry straight away.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:38 PM on May 11, 2021

Response by poster: The context is rather unique. Sent a thank you letter to the cops that, through star-crossed coincidence, seemed like it was threatening them with inside knowledge of a mismanaged call. That's probably about as much information as I should provide. As they say, no good deed...
posted by jumanjinight at 7:41 PM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are you trying to apologize in a 450 word e-mail, or do you think a long e-mail is the cause of the miscommunication? Work or personal?

450 words isn't unreadable, but:

Broadly speaking, most work e-mails I got that were that long could have been 90% shorter, and long work e-mails cause miscommunication as either the author hems and haws around the conclusion, or the recipient doesn't read it.

Also broadly speaking, an apology e-mail can usually be very short. Much longer for me veers into "justifying myself" e-mail, which may be what you want but at least be sure it is.

If it's an explanation of a work-related miscommunication, it may need to be that long by I always advised people to assume (some) readers might stop reading after one or two sentences, and that it usually helps to get the key point there before you expand.

I'd be less worried about length writing or receiving a personal e-mail.
posted by mark k at 7:44 PM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I am not a lawyer and have no idea if you’re in a place with laws similar to the US but I don’t think you should send a written statement acknowledging wrongdoing to some cops. Don’t violate your own civil rights.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:45 PM on May 11, 2021 [37 favorites]

If you are in legal trouble, you should consult with an attorney.

If you are not in legal trouble...sounds like you made some cops feel bad? Good for you. Fuck em. Forget about it and move on with your life.
posted by phunniemee at 7:47 PM on May 11, 2021 [31 favorites]

If they've managed to misinterpret a thank-you that badly, there is no number of words small or large that will convince them otherwise.
posted by teremala at 7:52 PM on May 11, 2021 [12 favorites]

Don’t email the cops. Talk to a lawyer.
posted by superfluousm at 8:02 PM on May 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: To build on what teremala said, I'd be worried that if they badly misinterpreted your previous email, who knows how they will interpret the next email. The longer the email, the more likely it will be misread. So I'd be very brief "Oh dear, it appears there has been some confusion - I merely wanted to thank you. Sincerely, -jumanjinight"
posted by coffeecat at 8:02 PM on May 11, 2021 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Gonna go ahead and say word count's not my biggest issue.

Appreciate the responses, guys
posted by jumanjinight at 8:14 PM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

A 450 word email to a police officer about anything is 450 words too long. Watch Don't Talk To The Police.
posted by caek at 8:14 PM on May 11, 2021 [7 favorites]

If you live in a small town and have local contacts this can be cleared up easily. If you do not, keep it real short, clarify what you meant, and say luv you guys. Or maybe just sleep on it, you might be overthinking how much these particular cops would worry about what lil ole you might do with "inside knowledge."
posted by vrakatar at 8:36 PM on May 11, 2021

Gonna nth the idea in this thread that the circumstances under which anyone should ever talk to the police are pretty narrow and the information you've provided doesn't make it seem like there is any reason to be in further contact.
posted by kensington314 at 8:47 PM on May 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Do not send anything in writing to the police, however law abiding and innocent you are. Seconding caek's suggestion of watching the Don't talk to the police video.
posted by mani at 3:48 AM on May 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

What the heck? NEVER talk to the police. Especially in writing. About anything. They are not on your side. I swear to you...they are not.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:34 AM on May 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

Is "Less said, sooner mended" an option?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:02 PM on May 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OP here again. Thanks for the help. General info on emails is useful. Those who suggested not communicating with the cops turned out to be quite right.

I have autism and, speaking with a “normal” friend, described the encounter after which I thanked the cops for their help when my car broke down.

Apparently, they manipulated the heck outta me. I didn’t have to let them search my car- they tricked me and pretty sure they knew what they were doing. (I didn’t have anything illegal at all but they made me wait while they tore up my car. ) They tried to get me to confess to offenses I didn’t commit while making it seem they were helping. Seems obvious now but I’m easily confused.

Heartbreaking that society’s most vulnerable members are exploited by those responsible for protecting them.

Welp, lesson learned.
posted by jumanjinight at 3:50 AM on June 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'm really sorry that happened to you. You are not the first person to experience this - cops can often be very manipulative and misleading when they want to circumvent due process. I hope you're doing okay.
posted by superfluousm at 2:05 PM on June 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

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