Orthogonal Thought | Random musings from the creator of Cooking For Engineers and Lead Architect of Fanpop





Michael's Rule

Posted 30 July, 2007 at 10:17am by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Life)

While at Intel, I discovered that I was often overwhelmed by e-mail. Many were useless, some were amusing, and a few were important and useful to my job or my life. Unfortunately, these few often disguised themselves as the useless variety (or a long winded variant). So, I started telling everyone that if they wanted to make sure I read (at least part of) their e-mail then they should start with the e-mailer's equivalent of an executive summary. The first line (or the subject) should contain the reason for the e-mail. If the heart of the e-mail is buried in the second paragraph, there's no guarantee that I (or someone else) will read that far before binning the e-mail.

Several years ago, I told my friend Harold to make sure he writes whatever it is he wants me to do or respond to in the first line too ensure that I'll pay attention to his e-mail and he's since employed it, with great success, as a way to write e-mail to everyone. Three days ago, he even wrote up an article on it dubbing it "Michael's Rule".

My only concern when employing "Michael's Rule" (even after all these years) is that the e-mail can seem a bit abrupt and straight to the point (perhaps a little off putting?) In his article, Harold does make suggestions for how to write the first line better, but I have a tendency to just come one and say what I need, want, or need to get across. Do you feel that your e-mails would be more productive/useful if this "rule" were employed in your life, or do you think it would further dehumanize e-mail (making it the communication means of impersonal robot people)?

3 comments to Michael's Rule

Dennis, July 30th, 2007 at 12:10 pm:

  • You might be interested in taking a look at this website:


    It's a different take on email correspondence, in a day and age when we're all flooded with too many emails. The gist of it is that no matter what the email is, the reply will be five sentences or less.

dena, August 10th, 2007 at 3:48 pm:

  • In the Army, we utilize "BLUF," which stands for Bottom Line Up Front… and it's the same theory as Michael's Rule. So the first line of an email is BLUF: Explain course of action.

    Of course, in the military world, brusqueness is the rule, not the exception. But it does make getting thru emails a lot more efficient.

Michael Chu, August 10th, 2007 at 6:46 pm:

  • BLUF: I like the sound of that…