You’ve crafted what you consider to be the perfect email. It’s friendly—but not too friendly. It’s well organized with bolded sections and bullet points. You even threw in an adorable emoji for good measure.
You press “send” on that masterpiece of yours and wait for the inevitable replies to start rolling in. You wait an hour, then four hours, then two days. All you’ve heard in response to that perfectly polished message of yours? Crickets—and the sound of your own frustration echoing around in your brain.
What gives? You thought you followed all of those tried and true email rules. You quadruple-checked that you sent it to the right recipients. You even reread it for the 800th time to ensure nothing could be misconstrued as rude or passive aggressive. So, why are you only getting radio silence in return?
Slow down—you might be overthinking it. In fact, it could be that your email is just way too long.
Are you excited when you have to wade through an email that’s so dense it gives you a hand cramp from scrolling so much? Probably not. Chances are, your recipients feel the same way.
According to research conducted by email extension, Boomerang, the ideal length is somewhere between 50 and 125 words. Messages in that range yielded response rates above 50%.
What exactly does that length look like? Look back up at “Too Long?” and then stop your eyes right here. That’s 87 words, which is smack dab in the middle of the range you want to be in.
Boomerang found that response rates declined from 50% for 125-word emails, to 44% for emails of 500 words. For messages that were an incredible 2,500 words or more? Response rates took a real nosedive—to below 35%.
See what I mean? Those long-winded messages you’ve been cranking out are probably going to bore people to tears. You’re better off keeping things short (but not too short—you want to stay above those 50 words, after all).
How to Shrink Your Emails
“But, everything I’m saying is super important,” you’re muttering to yourself right now. Trust me, I get it—I can be a pretty wordy writer myself. However, since I make my living stringing along letters, I’ve managed to learn a few tricks and tactics that help me keep the length in check.
1. Look for Commas
This is one of my favorite tricks to use when I know I need to trim down some writing. I scan back over the whole piece, keeping my eyes peeled for any commas. While they can often be included in lists, you’ll also find them after a lot of short introductory phrases (I’ve used quite a few of them in this very article already).
When you’re trying to keep things short, these phrases can be easily removed—without sacrificing your overall message. From phrases like, “Just to be clear,” to “In case you were wondering,” to even a simple, “Needless to say,” they’re unnecessary qualifiers that are only taking up precious real estate.
2. Remove Adjectives and Adverbs
Deleting flowery adjectives and useless adverbs from your obnoxiously long email can absolutely make it shorter. Want an example? Remove them from that first sentence and you’re left with, “Deleting adjectives and adverbs from your email can make it shorter.”
Yes, they can bring a little friendliness and a conversational tone to your messages. But, when you’re looking to reduce your word count, they should be one of the first things to go. After all, it’s totally possible to write shorter emails without coming off as cold or rude.
3. Refine Your Focus
If you go through both of those steps and still find yourself way above that 125-word limit, you could be trying to cover too much. Would you be better off splitting things up into different, shorter messages?
Instead of sending your entire team a rundown that discusses the details of your recent project, asks for ideas for the company picnic, and also reminds everyone that your boss’ birthday is coming up, pick one topic and stick to it. Not only will your email be shorter, but also more organized.
Take it from me, I know that shortening your writing isn’t always an easy task—there’s a reason William Faulkner referred to it as “killing your darlings”.
If you’re still struggling to avoid writing War and Peace, ask yourself this: If this topic is so massive, is it best suited to email? Or, should you pick up the phone, schedule a meeting, or even create a Google Doc where everybody could collaborate—instead of clogging everybody’s inboxes?
Putting in that prior consideration, along with the above three tips, will mean your emails are brief, to the point, and—most importantly—responded to.
Photo of person on laptop courtesy of PeopleImages/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