Emails tend to be short, rather than long. While there is no specific rule about the maximum length of an email, there is one historical example that provides a guide for today.
President Abraham Lincoln’s address at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, PA, on November 19, 1863 was a speech of only 266 words that was both a powerful message on the principles of democratic government and a shining example of how a short message can speak volumes. This speech also provides the inspiration for the Gettysburg Criterion-that the text in the body of an email should be shorter than the Gettysburg Address.
To use the Gettysburg Criterion, email a copy of the Gettysburg Address to yourself.
Whenever you are drafting an email that seems a bit long, compare it with the Gettysburg Address email.
If the draft is longer than Lincoln’s speech, then shorten the text.
If making it shorter is not an option, consider sending the message in an attached file.
Here is the text of the Gettysburg Address inscribed in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC (punctuation added for clarity):
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
The Gettysburg Criterion is only one way to evaluate your child’s writing. If she writes an email that is long but effective, don’t force her to make it shorter or put it into an attachment. But if using the Gettysburg Criterion encourages you and your child to take the time to talk about writing
Note: When this article was first written in 2004, most people used email programs that relied on their personal computer for storing both the program and the email. Currently, the most popular email options are ones like Google’s Gmail, which uses their online resources to store all of your email in the cloud. When you sign up for Gmail, you also get access to a wide range of free services from Google, including Google Drive, which allows you to store a variety of files in Google’s servers rather than your computer, and Google Docs, which allows you to create and store word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and other office productivity type files online.
Source: Parenting and the Internet, chapter 8: Email Basics