When it comes to emails, I tend to be pretty wordy.
I live with an intense fear of coming off as too direct or cold, and there’s something about all of those extra words, niceties, and (embarrassingly) exclamation points that make me sound a little warmer and friendlier.
But, here’s the thing: I’m ultimately wasting my own time—along with the time of the person reading my message.
Nobody wants to spend their precious mental energy wading through fluff in order to get to your point. So, if you have a soft spot in your heart for small talk and flowery language like I do, how can you manage to strip down your own messages to the stuff that really matters?
Here are four actionable tips that’ve helped me:
1. Cut Out Filler Words and Phrases
Chances are high that you’re sprinkling filler phrases into your emails.
Don’t believe me? Type out an email to a colleague and look at how many times you’ve included the words “I think.” While that helps to soften your language, it’s totally unnecessary. It’s assumed that this is what you think, since you’re the one writing the message.
The same rule holds true for a word like “just.” We all pepper it in here and there. But, in most cases, it could be cut out completely.
When it comes to filtering out any other clutter that could be hiding, there’s one more tip from my former journalism instructor that still sticks with me: Look for where you’ve included commas. Many times, they follow a qualifier that you can delete. You know, things like “Needless to say,” “However,” “Indeed,” or even that “You know” that I used to begin this very sentence.
2. Use Bullet Points
Including the necessary context is one thing. But, especially in emails, it’s tempting to go overboard and stuff your message full with all sorts of irrelevant details.
This is why making use of bullet points can be so helpful—they force you to be far more concise and direct with your writing. Challenge yourself to identify if there are any paragraphs that would be better turned into a shortened list.
While you don’t want your entire email to be a seemingly endless roster of bullet points, breaking some larger chunks of text down can help to make your note shorter (and far more organized).
3. Refer People to Relevant Documents
Every now and then, the information you’re desperately trying to cram into your email has already been recorded elsewhere—whether that’s in a document, a presentation, a website, or something else entirely.
There’s no need for you to reinvent the wheel. So, if you can dig up an additional resource that already shares all of that need-to-know information, refer your recipient to that—rather than trying to summarize it.
4. Skip the Small Talk
If you’re anything like me, you took one look at this tip and thought Are you kidding me? Skipping those pleasantries will surely turn me into the office monster!
I get where you’re coming from—prefacing each of my messages with a friendly question seems like the polite thing to do. But, more often than not, it goes completely unanswered anyway. It’s that totally unnecessary part that most people just gloss right over.
Feel free to keep in a quick and pleasant “I hope you’re doing well!” However, it’s probably best to hit the backspace button on anything beyond that.
These Tricks in Action
Want proof that these tips actually work? Take a look at the examples below to see how the second email gets the very same point across as the first—with far less words.
I hope you’re doing well! How was your recent vacation? Based on the pictures you’ve already shared, Boston seems like an awesome city—I’d love to visit!
Anyway, I just wanted to touch base about the upcoming presentation we’ll be giving to the board. In case you don’t remember, we need to talk about this quarter’s sales numbers as well as what big plans we have in the works moving forward. There will be twelve board members in attendance, and there will also be a question and answer session at the end—so we should be prepared to answer anything the board asks!
Unfortunately, I have a couple of concerns about this presentation that I thought I’d chat with you about. First, this quarter’s sales numbers are down from last quarter, and I’m eager for your thoughts on how you think we can present that in a way that doesn’t seem overly negative. Secondly, I think that the presentation might be a little bit stronger if we flipped the order from what it is right now.
I’m curious to hear what you think about this, Susan. I think we’re making great progress so far!
I hope you’re doing well!
I’m touching base about the upcoming presentation we’ll be giving to the board. It’s been a while since we’ve connected on this, so presentation details can be found in the attached document.
I have a couple of concerns that I wanted to get your thoughts on:
- This quarter’s sales numbers are down. How can we present that in a way that isn’t too negative?
- The presentation might be stronger if we flipped the order. What do you think?
We’re making great progress so far!
That first email is 198 words. The second? It’s a concise and streamlined 93 words—meaning the first message was more than twice the length of the second.
Be forewarned that some message will be easier to apply these tactics to than others. And, you probably won’t be able to slice every single one you write in half.
But don’t let that discourage you. Instead, remember that the sheer act of trying to be more efficient and effective in your written communication is really what matters most. As long as it’s something that you’re continuing to be consciously aware of, your emails are sure to keep improving.
Photo of person on computer courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author