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3 ways to write clear emails

Updated: Sep 15, 2021



Do your emails leave your readers confused, annoyed, unimpressed? Do they result in time spent reading replies or answering calls?


If so, don’t worry. Here are three tips for writing emails which readers can understand easily.


Be concise


This works on three levels: email, sentence and word.


At the email level, include only what the reader needs to know. Nobody opens a long email and smiles. Trim it by cutting unnecessary information. If you think it might be useful, include a link to online information.


At a sentence level, aim for a maximum sentence length of around 20 words. Research shows that sentences get more difficult to understand as word count increases beyond that.


Does that mean counting the words in your longer sentences? Yes, it does.


You can tackle troublesome sentences in a few ways. First, when you see an ‘and’ delete it and put a full stop.


Second, rewrite the sentence using fewer words. Do this by using the active instead of the passive voice, verbs instead of nouns. For example, ‘We have decided to act’ has fewer words than ‘The decision has been made to act’.


Third, avoid sentences with relative clauses. Compare these sentences:


With a relative clause: Cars with smaller engines are easier to park, cheaper to insure and use less petrol, which is why more consumers are buying them these days. (25 words)

·

Without a relative clause: Cars with smaller engines are easier to park, cheaper to insure and use less petrol. Therefore, more consumers are buying them these days. (15 + 8 words)


Now, let’s look at being concise on a word level. This takes us to our second tip.


Use straightforward words


For some reason, when people step into their office, their writing style changes. Instead of writing like a human being, they write like a faceless organisation or authoritative government regime. The plain words used in everyday life vanish. In their place are the words and phrases better suited to a 19th century law court.


Remember that the aim of your email is not to impress somebody with your knowledge of English vocabulary. It is to get your message across as clearly as possibly.


High level language will make your emails more difficult to understand. It may also make your reader feel you are talking down to them. Not nice.


George Orwell famously wrote that we should, ‘never use a long word where a short word will do.’ So, use email instead of correspondence, and change instead of modification.


Use single words instead of multi-word phrases. Write if not in the event of, and without not in the absence of. This has the added bonus of making your sentences shorter.


For more examples, check out the excellent Plain English website.


Also make sure you spell out uncommon abbreviations and acronyms. Just because you know them, it doesn’t mean everyone else does too.


Be specific


Missing information and vague language also impact clarity. Avoid this by being specific. If you are asking for an action, make sure the reader knows the what, when, where, who and why. If you miss out any of this information, they will likely have to email you back asking for it.


Instead of creating more work for the both of you, write clear action statement as in the example below:


If you would like to join our 16 November email writing workshop, please let us know by midday on 14 November. This will give us time to register you and send out a Zoom invite. You can email us at learn@octopuspd.com or call on 07516553368.


Notice, that the writer has answered all the reader’s questions and given a specific time for the ‘when’.


Going forwards


So, there you have it: 3 simple ways to make your emails clearer. Why not practice them today?


Open a recent email you’ve written. Rewrite it using the techniques above. Ask a friend to compare both and choose their favourite version.


#emails #emailwritingtips #businesswriting

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