5 ways to trim, tuck and shorten emails

Use concise sentences, embed compelling visuals, and link teaser text to longer pieces on your intranet.

5 tips to shorten emails

Savvy communicators use multiple channels to reach employees, and email remains a bedrock option in most workplaces.

However, dealing with the “excessive volume” of communications is a challenge for companies around the world, according to the State of the Sector 2019–Digital Channels, from Gatehouse and Gallagher Communication.

The report says that despite all the messaging, platforms and channels, employees are still struggling to grasp how their work ties to overall company strategy. A huge majority also relate frustration about the lack of clarity regarding leaders’ decision-making. Meanwhile, the emails keep pouring in and stacking up.

So, how can communicators use email to increase understanding—instead of just adding to the corporate clutter and clatter? Try these five tips:

1. Use short, straightforward language. Messages at the simpler end of the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease scale (from sixth to eighth grade) tend to outperform those written at higher levels. A 2018 report by PoliteMail that analyzed three years’ worth of data and nearly 200 million internal emails also supports this finding. It recommends sending shorter emails (with greater frequency) to boost open rates.

To increase your email readability, ruthlessly cut unnecessary words. Delete fluff such as “very” and “due to the fact that.” Also avoid redundancies, such as “close proximity” and “end result.”

2. Use short sentences—averaging fewer than 14 words. A survey by the American Press Institute found that readers will understand from 90% to 99% of sentences within the range of nine to 14 words. The more words you add, the less likely it is that readers will understand your writing—if they read it at all.

The Hemingway App is a handy way to check for clunky, rambling sentences.

3. Use short paragraphs. Aim for one main thought broken into just two or three sentences. If you start a new thought, start a new paragraph.

Try linking from summaries to longer explanations on your intranet or elsewhere.

Break up the text, and make reading easier by pairing the writing with pictures, infographics and other visual elements.

4. Use active voice. It takes fewer words and is more energetic to use the subject-verb-object format: “[NAME] wrote the report,” rather than “The report was written by [NAME].”

Tip: If you can add “by zombies” after a sentence, and it still makes sense, you’re probably using passive voice: “The report was written (by zombies).”

5. Avoid jargon, buzzwords and acronyms. Use language that’s crystal clear. Don’t use terms that might confuse or alienate new employees or those who speak English as a second language.

Ultimately, focus on being kind to your readers. Making your language easier to read saves them time and effort, and they’ll be more likely to understand and remember your message. As Norman Nielsen Group VP and researcher Hoa Loranger says, “No one has ever complained that a text was too easy to understand.”

Sue Horner is a writer based in Canada. A version of this post first appeared on her Get It Write blog.


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.