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Top Tips for Effective Emails

31st October 2017

Emails: How to communicate clearly and concisely

How many times have you received a rambling and incoherent email? How many times have you hit ‘Delete’ because you have no idea what the person wants and no time to sort through the long message? The truth is people don’t have time for long emails, and they don’t have time to try to find out exactly what you want.  They need to be told in as short an email as possible.

Communicate clearly and concisely with the following rules:

  1. Use the minimum amount of sentences

Start using the 5-sentence rule; you can use more if needed.  The question is: how many sentences are needed to communicate what you’re trying to communicate?  Or how few sentences can you get away with.  Cut it to that number, and no more.  That ensures you’re not wasting the time of the recipient and your email actually gets read (people tend to get put off reading longer ones, and might even delete them).

  1. State what you want right away

Don’t write a long introduction; people just want to know what you want.  So state that in the first sentence, skip the niceties, don’t make the recipient wade through ten paragraphs to find what action is needed.

  1. Write about only one thing

If you want to write about multiple things, with multiple requests, you do two things:

  • Make it likely that your email actually won’t be read or acted on
  • Make it likely that even if it is acted on or responded to, the recipient will only do one of those things.

Instead, stick to one subject, with one request.  Once that’s done, you can send a second one but don’t overwhelm the recipient.

  1. Leave out humour and emotions

These don’t come across well in an email.  Even if you use emoticons.  There’s just no way to express tone, inflection etc…and there’s no way to know if the recipient understands that you’re joking.  If you’re communicating in person you can see that the person didn’t understand the humour, and say “I was only joking!” but not in email.

So, unless you know the person well, and you know they’ll understand that you’re joking leave out humour.  It’s a risk that you don’t want to take.

  1. Use “If…then” statements

As email is a back and forth method of communicating, and it can take a day or more for a response (in some cases), you want to limit the number of times a message has to go back and forth.  To do that, use “if…then” statements, anticipating the possible responses to your questions.

Example: if you want to know if a person has received a response to an inquiry:

“Have you received a response from Mr X yet? If so, please finish the report by Tuesday and email it to me.  If not, can you follow up today and let me know the response?”

By anticipating the possible responses, and giving a desired action for each possible response, you’re cutting a lot of wasted back and forth time.

  1. Review for ambiguity, clarity

Once you’ve written an email, take a few seconds to read over it before pressing the Send button. Read it as if you were an outsider – how clear is it?  Are there any statements that could be interpreted the wrong way? If so, clarify.

  1. Revise for conciseness

As you review, also see if there is a way you can shorten the email, remove words or sentences or even paragraphs. Leave nothing but the essential message you’re trying to communicate.

Writing In Plain English!

Consider The Readers

  • What information will they need?
  • What language will they both understand and expect?

Control The Content

  • Keep to the point.  Cut out all the essential details – use the four-point plan.

Write Shorter Sentences

  • Aim for an average sentence length of about 15 – 18 words.
  • Do not let sentences run into each other with only commas between them.

Be Brief. For example do not write/say ‘assistance’ if you could use ‘help’.

Use The Active Tense

Many writers tend to use a passive rather than an active approach when writing official letters, minutes and reports. The result is that the writing becomes flat, boring and off-putting. Active language is more direct while passive language is longer and less friendly. Instead of ‘You will be sent the details within two weeks’, write ‘we will send you the details within two weeks.’

Use ‘You’ and ‘We’

Using you/we means your sentences are active and develop an appropriate tone.

Use Short or Familiar Words

Even in very formal writing it is possible, and preferable, to use ordinary words. For example, do not say ‘purchase’ if you could use ‘buy’. Do not say ‘anticipate’ if you could say ‘expect’.                          

Check The Grammar and Spelling

  • Make sure everything between two full stops is a complete sentence.
  • Match singulars and plurals correctly, e.g. do not write ‘The range of materials ..’, or ‘The committee intends to announce their plans next week’.
  • Ensure that pronouns such as ‘this’ and ‘it’ can easily be linked back to the words or ideas they are standing for.

Remember: ‘Email is 20-30 times more effective in generating a purchase than any other tool.’ – Josh Kaufman. Don’t waste an opportunity!