Email has become a primary form of communication for business, yet there are still so many terrible examples flooding company inboxes every day:
Meandering, imprecise missives that don’t seem to have a point.
Email chains a mile long that somehow leave everyone with a differing opinion on the next course of action. (When they were meant to “get everyone on the same page.”)
Passive-aggressive notes that ratchet up office tension.
Confusing, convoluted emails don’t just take up precious time to decipher – they can also lead to costly miscommunications. So take some time to whip your emails into shape today. Edit down those rambling sentences, come to the point quickly, and become a better email communicator by cutting out these types of phrases:
One reason we fill our emails with so many passive phrases is to soften the impact of what we’re saying. We think it reads as a more delicate way of approaching the subject – but in reality all these empty phrases just come across as passive aggressive.
“I just wanted to” is one of these killer phrases. It’s often followed by “…reach out,” “…touch base,” or other pretty vacuous sayings that skirt around the real reason you’re emailing – which is generally to request something. The reason people fall back on this particular phrase is because they feel rude asking directly.
For example, if you write “I just wanted to reach out to see how things are coming with the fundraising project we talked about last week,” it’s because you want the recipient to give you an update, right?
Instead of crossing your fingers that she gets your meaning, rewrite it to say: “Can you please send me updates on the fundraising project by this afternoon?”
Most emails are littered with phrases that don’t mean anything at all. Do you use some of these chief offenders? Try deleting them from your sentences – you’ll find your point gets across just as well (and much more quickly) without them.
- As far as I’m concerned
- What it comes down to
- As a matter of fact
- For all intents and purposes
- For the most part
- As to whether
If you’re afraid the reader didn’t get your point the first time, don’t just restate it a few more times. Rewrite your original sentence until it’s crystal clear. Make it your goal to use the fewest number of sentences to get your point across, and you’ll decrease confusion.
Redundancies don’t just plague email ideas – they also bloat individual sentences. Trim the fat from your emails by striking out redundant phrases like:
- Spell out in detail
- Postpone until later
- Estimate it to be about
- Possibly might
Check out this excellent list from Daily Writing Tips for more redundant phrases that most of us use every day.
Sure, transitions like “however,” “therefore,” “in addition,” and even “and” help smooth your prose, but let’s face it – if your email paragraphs are so long they require multiple transitions, your meaning has been lost.
If you’re trying to get more than one main point across in an email, use bullet points to corral each item into its own thought. This lets the reader scan your email and quickly pick up your intention.
Let’s go back to the example sentence, “I just wanted to reach out to see how things are coming with the fundraising project we talked about last week.”
Sure, you hope they’ll interpret it as “send me an update already,” but you haven’t actually told them how you’d like them to respond – which makes them more likely to ignore the request.
Cut down on confusion (and the number of emails sent back and forth) by using if/then statements that detail the response you’d like. Try:
“Have you heard back from the caterers for the fundraising event? If so, please compile a quote and email it to me by this afternoon. If not, please follow up with them and let me know what they say.”
What are the biggest communication barriers you see in emails? Let us know in the comments!
Well said, I think my Technical Writing class was one of my most valuable courses I took while at University.
Good advice – plain language wins every time.
Excellent article, however this is a comment to GovLoop in general. It would be nice if all articles posted had a PRINT feature. Keep up the good work.
Very good article, although one could argue that when you are writing an email to a peer it is important to not sound like you are directing them to do something. For example, there are many times where I need a status update from a peer, but I am certainly not going to request it by a certain time as I am not their direct supervisor.
That’s a good point, Samantha. You definitely don’t want to come across as directing someone else if it’s not your place – just so long as you’re being clear about what you need!