You know those days when you get home from work and your partner asks you what you did that day and all you can say is ‘I answered emails’? Email takes up a lot of our time. We spend all day in our inboxes. We reply and send and ask.
It makes sense that shorter emails are more effective, but if we cut too much we run the risk of alienating our reader, because we can come across as abrupt.
Here are 10 ways to keep it short, but professional:
Use a greeting. Often when we rush, we leave out the greeting. Make sure to always include one. Words like ‘Hello’ or ‘Dear’ are good to use. ‘Hi’ isn’t the best for business, but it also depends on how formal or informal your company communications are.
State the reason for writing as soon as possible. We tend to start with clichés like ‘I hope this email finds you well’. We can do this, but we should try to avoid doing it. We want to state the reason for writing as soon as possible. We may think adding a phrase like this makes us sound polite, but when we read clichés our brains shut down a little bit. We don’t want your reader shutting down.
Write in full sentences and use pronouns. We tend to leave out pronouns and write in incomplete sentences. This makes our messages abrupt. Don’t do it.
Find the positive. This is an art. Always try to turn the negative into the positive. Avoid negative words. Words starting with ‘un-‘ and ‘non-‘ aren’t ideal. Re-examine those words and try to replace them.
Use proper spelling and grammar. Use a UK spellcheck and we suggest that you read your email aloud. Paying attention to our spelling and grammar is a sign of respect and professionalism.
Use contractions. Contractions soften your tone, so use them if you need to do this.
Beware of capital letters. Capital letters are the written equivalent of shouting, so avoid typing in CAPS.
Avoid using colour to highlight. Computer screens are calibrated differently, and what might be a nice grey colour on your screen is invisible on your reader’s screen. Also, we don’t all have colour printers. Use bold instead. Avoid using red type; people do not enjoy red words.
Reference a follow-up date. This is where we can make up for leaving out “I hope this email finds you well”, but try to make it original. Try “I look forward to receiving, meeting, seeing…” It makes your email positive.
Call to action with instructions. Anything we write should inform, entertain, or persuade. If you can do all three, you rock. Most business emails inform or persuade. Make sure you are clear about what you want the reader to do after reading your message.
See attached document. Feedback required asap.
I’ve attached the document as requested.
Please reply to this email with your comments by Tuesday, 24 October 2016. The terms are fixed.
I look forward to receiving your feedback.
Emails are delicate. The average employee receives about 50 of them a day, if we spend just five minutes with each email we’ll spend about four hours in our inbox. So remember, to keep it short, but keep it sweet.
If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme.
Want to continue this conversation on The Media Online platforms? Comment on Twitter @MediaTMO or on our Facebook page. Send us your suggestions, comments, contributions or tip-offs via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.