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Truths About E-Mail

E-mails and written documents are like conference calls; if they aren’t clear, concise and actionable, it’s going to get put on mute for the duration of the reading. As a business society, we’re fascinated and dependent on e-mail for communication. While this has its benefits, it can also be difficult to get your points across in the best possible way.

One of our clients’ wives runs a nonprofit literacy organization. She shared three facts with us regarding e-mails and written messages.

1. Fact: People read in an “F” format. Meaning, they’ll read the whole first line, then a little less of the second line and almost none of the third paragraph.

Solution: Put the message up front. Start with the subject line, this should tell the reader the origin of the message and what they need to do with it. For example, UPDATE: 2019 Technology Initiatives or ACTION ITEM: Next steps on yesterday’s meeting. Ideally, each e-mail will only address one topic. Use bullets or numbering to break up paragraphs of text or to annotate what needs to be done. And finally, keep the language simple and clear. E-mails are not the place for 100 point words.

2. Fact: The passive voice is the last bastion of the weak and non-committed.

Solution:  Results don’t happen in the past, they happen in the future. When speaking about things that are coming up or possible outcomes to messages, use an active voice. For example, instead of saying “the outcomes you would achieve are….”, say “you will be able to….”.  According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, “sentences in active voice are also more concise than those in passive voice because fewer words are required to express action.”

3. Fact: Few people proofread.

Solution: Don’t spend time writing a clear, easy to read message only to get lazy at the last minute. This is a disservice to your intended reader. Always proofread your message as you may be able to take out any unnecessary words or phrases. And always do so by reading it aloud. This allows you to clear up sentences that don’t make sense or fix words that can be commonly mistyped, such as ‘on vs. no’ or ‘of vs. if’.

The next time you’re writing an e-mail, keep these solutions in mind. Take time to prepare an e-mail that can be acted upon with little to no question. If you’re looking for more targeted training in this space, talk to us about our Business Writing Program!

Jenny Dziubla